While Ninth District U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof and fellow members of the House Ethics Committee have yet to take action on a June 15 complaint filed against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas grand jury returned 32 indictments against three consultants to a political action committee that supports DeLay.
The consultants, who worked for Texans for a Republican Majority, were charged along with eight corporations with making illegal political contributions. DeLay, however, was not indicted. Meanwhile, the ethics committee has allowed two deadlines for action on the complaint to pass.
Committee members have come under fire from a variety of government watchdog groups. And Hulshof, who seeks re-election in November, is taking flak from his Democratic opponent, Linda Jacobsen.
Jacobsen said in a news release that Hulshof should recuse himself from the committee and that outside counsel should be brought in to investigate claims of wrongdoing by DeLay.
“I know Hulshof plays any tune the Bush administration calls upon him to play, but suppressing this ethics complaint to protect a party boss who is accused of breaking the law is going too far,” Jacobsen said. “If Mr. DeLay is innocent, let him prove it to an independent counsel in an open court, not before a secret panel of politicians who owe him favors.”
The three-part complaint filed by Rep. Chris Bell, D-Texas, accuses DeLay of soliciting corporate contributions for the Texas political action committee in exchange for help on legislation, of improperly using staff to contact U.S. aviation authorities to track down Democratic legislators who fled Texas during a controversial redistricting plan and of using his political action committees to give money from corporations to legislative candidates in Texas, which is illegal.
Questions about the impartiality of the ethics committee arose because four of five Republican members, including Hulshof, have received a total of $38,731 from DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority political action committee, a parent of the Texas PAC.
Hulshof, who received $14,964 from the parent group, maintains the committee can remain fair.
“This is the most non-partisan committee that I have ever served on,” he said of the group, which contains five Democrats and five Republicans. “The people serve knowing that we serve the institution, not any one party.”
Jacobsen and Common Cause, a non-partisan citizen’s group, both advocate an outside investigation of the complaints against DeLay. That would match the procedures used when ethics complaints were filed against former House Speakers Newt Gingrich and Jim Wright.
Hulshof insists he and the committee are qualified in this case.
“I have gone to the chairman and the highest-ranking Democrat and have offered to step down if anyone had questions about my capabilities,” Hulshof said. “No one had a concern at all. I know that on the committee there are Democratic colleagues of mine who have been longtime political foes of Tom DeLay, and I don’t question their judgment.”
Mary Boyle, press secretary of Common Cause, said the committee appears to be stalled on the issue.
“They agreed in June to accept the complaint, and they had 45 days to make a decision,” Boyle said. “Then they extended their own deadline for 45 more days. Monday came and went with no word from them.”
Committee Chairman Joel Hefely, R-Colo., and ranking minority chairman Allan Mollohan, D-W.Va., issued a statement Monday saying they would present information about the complaint to the full committee in the near future.
The committee can choose to dismiss the complaint, let it remain in limbo or refer it to an investigative subcommittee.
Boyle said the situation goes beyond mere partisanship.
“DeLay is arguably one of the most powerful people in Congress,” Boyle said of the leader who has been nicknamed “The Hammer.” “It’s not just a Republicans versus Democrats thing, though that’s part if it. Tom DeLay has power over the entire House, which includes the Democrats and Republicans.”