Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore

Tom DeLay's Moral Relativism and GOP Army of Ethical Corruption

by Melanie Sloan, Executive Director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)

Open up a national daily or watch a cable talk show and you'd think that House Democrats have been committing ethics violations just as serious and as frequently as those committed by House Republicans. Of course, that's what's House Republicans want you to think, but the truth is that it's a comparison between apples and oranges.

While House Republicans and their colleagues are under federal investigation for breaking federal laws, their Democratic counterparts are being skewered in the press for trip reporting lapses. Hardly the same category of offense. But that doesn't stop Members of Congress like Representative Jack Kingston (R-NY) from claiming that "Democrats have just as many substantive questions."

Simply put, this is not true.

Let's look at the news this morning. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham has decided not to run for re-election. He is now the subject of a grand jury investigation into whether he took bribes from Mitchell Wade and Wade's defense contracting firm. MZM, Inc. Cunningham sold his San Diego home to Wade for approximately $700,000 over market value and in Washington, Cunningham has been living rent-free aboard Wade's yacht, the Duke Stir. In exchange for Wade's largesse, Cunningham has assisted MZM in securing tens of millions of dollars in defense contracts.

Unlike Rep. Cunningham, Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) has barely acknowledged his egregious violations.

In 2002 after scandal-plagued Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff worked with Christian activist Ralph Reed to close the casino of the El Paso, Texas, Tigua Indian tribe, Abramoff persuaded the tribe to hire him to lobby Congress to reopen the casino. Shortly after Abramoff met with Ney to ask him to push the legislation, the Tigua - by overnight mail - sent three checks to Ney's political committees, totaling $32,000. The apparent exchange of campaign contributions in return for Ney's support of an amendment to reopen the Tigua's casino could constitute bribery.

In addition, e-mail exchanges between Abramoff and the Tigua's political consultant show that Ney solicited the Tigua to pay for part of a 2002 golf trip to Scotland, although solicitation of travel is specifically prohibited by House rules. Shortly after Ney returned from Scotland, he was scheduled to meet with members of the Tigua tribal council. Prior to that meeting, Abramoff reminded the Tigua that "for obvious reasons" the golf trip would not be mentioned at the meeting, but that Ney show his appreciation "in other ways," which was, Abramoff pointed out, just what the tribe wanted. Although the tribe never ended up paying for the golf trip, Ney's attempt to tie the gift of the trip to the legislative assistance the tribe was seeking likely violates federal criminal law.

Compare those abuses with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) ethics rules violations. Earlier this month, Rep. Pelosi filed delinquent reports for three trips valued at a total of $8,580 (one for $8040, one for $200 and one for $350) and which occurred as long as seven years ago. Congresswoman Pelosi is one of a large number of House members to amend travel reports as a result of the recent increased scrutiny of lawmaker travel.

Pelosi's lapsed reporting. A violation? Yes. One that merits a comparison to Republican actions? Not really.

Similarly, last May, as reported by Media Matters for America, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Fox News' Brit Hume both accused Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) of going on a trip to Puerto Rico they claimed was funded by lobbyists, thereby flouting the same ethics rule that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) has been accused of violating. Scarborough also criticized House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) for participating in the same trip. But the April 20, 2005 Washington Times article that both Hume and Scarborough cited as the basis for their allegations provides strong evidence that lobbyists did not in fact pay for the 2001 trip to Puerto Rico.

The Washington Times article noted that a Jones spokeswoman stated that the listing of the lobbying firm Smith Dawson & Andrews on disclosure forms was the result of "human error."

The spokeswoman for Jones added that the advocacy organization Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques (TPRV) sponsored the trip and hired Smith Dawson to handle logistics. That claim is supported by James P. Smith, a managing partner at Smith Dawson & Andrews; according to the Times, Smith "denied that his firm paid for Mrs. Jones' travel. He offered to place his hand on the Bible." Furthermore, the Times noted that other House members who attended the trip, including Pelosi, listed TPRV -- not Smith Dawson -- as the trip's sponsor. Unlike lobbying firms, "private groups, such as Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques ... are allowed to fund trips," the Times noted.

So, Rep. Tubbs-Jones made an error in filling out her travel forms. Tom DeLay's travel, on the other hand, actually was paid for by a lobbyist - Jack Abramoff.

This is not to say that Democrats are squeaky clean. They are not. For example, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) should be investigated for the over million dollars her family has made in the last eight years by doing business with companies, candidates and causes that Waters has helped.

When members of either party break violate ethics rules and laws they need to be held accountable. It is irresponsible, however, to compare serious violations to minor transgressions or even simple clerical mistakes. Comparing wrongs rather than addressing them does not forward the democratic process. We hope for a change - or in the meantime - some reporting and analysis that actually reflects reality.

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