DeLay's Dodge

Yesterday, in an effort to "to deputize thousands of rank-and-file [supporters] to his cause," scandal-plagued House leader Tom DeLay mass-mailed a set of misleading talking points to his constituents in Houston. The letter signals the serious troubles DeLay is facing back in Texas over his numerous corruption charges. The Dallas Morning News notes that "polls [are] showing his support slipping back home," while DeLay stalwart Paul Weyrich, president of the right-wing Free Congress Foundation, admits that "he may have a problem ... in his district." One analyst calls it "remarkable that after 20 years in Congress, the No. 2 leader in the House would need to shore up support back in a district whose lines he personally approved during the last round of redistricting." (To see what you can do to hold DeLay accountable, check out www.DropTheHammer.org.) DeLay is desperate, and his deceptive memo tells the tale -- we pick apart some of the more misleading statements below.

Conservative Criticisms
DeLay's memo is misleading from the get-go. Its title reads, "Fact versus Fiction: The Left-wing 'Case' Against Tom DeLay." By ignoring high-profile criticisms from the Wall Street Journal, David Brooks, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, Reps. Christopher Shays and Tom Tancredo, and at least ten conservative ex-congressmen, the DeLay memo falsely suggests that the desire for open and honest congressional leaders is a strictly "liberal" concern.

Delay Admits Violations
The memo falsely claims that Tom DeLay "does not stand accused of any violation of any law or rule in any forum and has never been found to have violated any law or rule by anyone." DeLay himself has admitted violating House rules: in December, for example, DeLay acknowledged accepting contributions to his legal defense fund from lobbyists. The trust admitted that the lobbyist contributions violated House ethics rules and returned the contributions.

Scandals -- Numerous and Serious
DeLay's letter speaks of "a laundry list of unfounded attacks" and "unsubstantiated allegations." The truth is the list of DeLay's possible ethics violations is long and serious. DeLay was rebuked by the Ethics Committee three times (before he dismantled it) for attempted bribery on the House floor, using taxpayer money to track an airplane in which his political opponents were traveling, and promising a "seat at the table" to an energy company which contributed to his PAC. Recently, reports have surfaced indicating DeLay took at least two trips underwritten by foreign business interests (in a likely breach of House rules) and another financed by an Indian gambling interest which had been promised access to the House leader by corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff. DeLay also took a $100,000 check from a private prison company that could have benefited from pending prison legislation and used a children's charity, Celebrations for Children Inc., as cover for collecting soft money from anonymous interest groups, some of which he intended to use for assorted fundraising events at the Republican convention in New York.

Delay's "Purge"
DeLay's memo claims that "Changes to the Make Up of the Ethics Committee Were in the Normal Course of House Business." Not so, according to the victims of those "changes." Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), chairman of the House Ethics Committee that publicly rebuked DeLay three times last year, was removed from the panel in February. At the time, ethics watchdogs protested, but "Hefley took the move in stride, saying it was not retaliatory." Hefley has since reversed his position, acknowledging that the move was "very much like a purge." Another dispatched ethics committee member, Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.), said the decision to remove him from the committee "was a direct result of our work in the last session."

Responsible For Crippled Process
DeLay's memo falsely claims that his opponents "refuse to let the Committee meet because they are still trying to politicize the ethics process and block the Committee from doing its work." True, the House of Representatives remains an "ethics-free zone," but it is DeLay who bears direct responsibility for crippling the process. After the committee rebuked DeLay three times last year, it was purged of its most "responsible" members. Two of those members were replaced by loyalists who had actually contributed to DeLay's legal defense fund, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who donated $10,000, and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who gave the fund $5,000 before winning a seat on the Ethics Committee. He's also responsible for the partisan rule change that prevents the committee "from launching any investigation without the support of at least one Republican -- a restriction designed to protect the majority leader." (Last week, House conservatives "brushed aside" the latest attempts to revive the ethics council, killing a proposal that would have repealed new rules written to protect DeLay from scrutiny.)

Lobbying for Vacations
The memo states that DeLay's trips "to Russia in 1997 and the United Kingdom in 2000 were proper." This is false. According to four different people with firsthand knowledge of the vacation quoted in The Washington Post, DeLay's six-day trip to Moscow was "underwritten by business interests lobbying in support of the Russian government." The Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives on Gifts and Travel state that "a Member, officer or employee may not accept travel expenses from 'a registered lobbyist or agent of a foreign principal.'" Moreover, an Indian tribe (the Choctaws) and a gambling services company (eLottery) each paid $25,000 to finance the "educational" trip to Britain for DeLay, his wife, two aides and two lobbyists in mid-2000. Both firms were clients of DeLay crony Jack Abramoff, now under investigation by the Justice Department, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the IRS, the Department of the Interior, and the FBI. Two months later, in July 2000, DeLay helped kill the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, which "would have made it a federal crime to place certain bets over the internet and was opposed by eLottery and the Choctaws."

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