|Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore|
By GEBE MARTINEZ
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- The House ethics committee decided Tuesday to proceed with its own investigation into allegations filed against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay by Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston.
In a ruling that does not address the substance of Bell's charges that DeLay engaged in extortion, bribery and abuse of power, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct said the complaint was filed properly and warrants a look.
The decision "in no way addresses, or constitutes a determination on the substance of any of the allegations," said Committee Chairman Joel Heffley, R-Colo., and ranking Democrat Alan B. Mollohan of West Virginia.
Their announcement sets in motion a series of steps that could take months before a decision on whether the Republican leader from Sugar Land violated House rules. The panel could have held off until a related criminal investigation in Texas runs its course, and may still do so.
Before the ethics panel's decision was announced, DeLay told reporters he would not try to influence the panel's work, though he has spoken to his GOP colleagues about the case. DeLay emphasized that he has never been named as a target of the Texas probe.
"I have every confidence the ethics committee will do the right thing," he added.
Bell called the committee's decision "an important first step in the long journey to restore integrity and ethics to the people's house and hold the House majority leader accountable for his actions." He expressed confidence the House panel "will ultimately decide to proceed with the long overdue investigation into Mr. DeLay's illegal activities."
However some Republicans, including Rep. John Culberson of Houston, will press ahead today with an effort to disqualify Bell's complaint, arguing that he should not have the right to file ethics charges because he is a lame-duck congressman and has no stake in the House's future.
Bell's complaint is an outgrowth of a Travis County grand jury probe into the use of corporate contributions in state legislative campaigns by the Texas Association of Business and Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (TRMPAC), a campaign group created by DeLay.
Those political activities led to DeLay's push for new congressional districts to increase the number of GOP seats in the House. Bell lost his campaign for a second term in the March primary as a result.
In addition to the TRMPAC activities, Bell alleges DeLay wrongly pressured federal officials to help Republicans in the redistricting battle, and solicited campaign contributions from Westar Energy Inc. in return for legislative assistance.
On Tuesday, DeLay called Bell's charges "frivolous complaints," and argued the ethics committee process is being used by Democrats for "political gains."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., privately has expressed his opposition to an effort by Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., Culberson and others, to disqualify Bell from filing the ethics complaint. LaHood said he will propose today a ban on lame-duck lawmakers filing ethics complaints, and have it apply to Bell to bring a quick end to the DeLay case.
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