Case Closed

by Tom Feeney

The unanimous dismissal of allegations against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

For years, House Democrats have been scheming against Majority Leader Tom DeLay; for years, they have been unsuccessful. In recent months, a lame-duck Democrat, Rep. Chris Bell (D., Tex.), filed years-old allegations against DeLay that were full of headline-guarantees that were short on facts.

Bell has a history of throwing politically opportunistic ethics complaints against the wall in the hope that one of them might stick. According to the Houston Chronicle, Bell accused his 2004 Democratic-primary opponent, former local-NAACP leader Al Green, of violating House rules by not disclosing the source of $300,000 in campaign contributions. Green explained the omission was an oversight by his campaign and that he had mortgaged his own home to run and would be filing the proper forms. Bell so angered local African-American ministers with this charge, that they called on the Texas Democrat-party chairman to withdraw his endorsement of Bell. Green trounced Bell 2-1 in the Democratic primary even though Bell outspent Green 2-1. And for this rejection by his constituents, Bell seems to hold a grudge against Majority Leader DeLay.

The Ethics Committee, after weeks of reviewing Bell’s allegations against Majority Leader DeLay, similarly disposed of his charges. Some of the key points from the Ethics Committee’s report, were missed by much of the mainstream media.

First, in dismissing Count I in the Bell allegations, the committee found the following as to Bell’s accusation that DeLay solicited “campaign contributions from Westar Energy in return for legislative assistance on the energy bill”: “The information we obtained indicates that (1) neither Representative DeLay nor anyone acting on his behalf improperly solicited contributions from Westar, and (2) Representative DeLay took no action with regard to Westar that would constitute an impermissible special favor” (Memo of Chairman Hefley, p. 2). The report specifically dismissed the “rhetoric” of the Bell complaint, which, it said, was filled with “unsubstantiated allegations:” “When all of the rhetoric and irrelevant considerations are stripped away from the violations alleged in Count 1 [the Westar Count], the question presented to the Committee with regard to those allegations is a simple one: whether the Committee should launch a formal investigation of a member solely on the basis of entirely unsubstantiated allegations . . . made by a person or persons who have no personal knowledge whatsoever of the relevant facts. Our answer to this question here is the same as it would be in any other case that presents similar circumstances: no” (Memo of Chairman Hefley, pp. 27-28).

And while Bell asserted that he presented a “prima facie” case that DeLay violated both federal statutes and House rules, the committee rejected this claim, writing: “In fact that set of allegations [at complaint, 19] does not establish a prima facie case that Representative DeLay violated any laws or rules, because as we have established, those allegations do not include any reference whatsoever to any solicitation of Westar by Representative DeLay, or any action he took on the Westar legislation” (Memo of Chairman Hefley, p. 27). The committee politely acknowledged the “significant gap” between Bell’s rhetoric and reality: “Review of the materials presented in the complaint on this matter reveals a significant gap between the violations alleged against Representative DeLay, on the one hand, and the information offered in support of those allegations, on the other.” The committee also noted that the Westar documents attached to the complaint include “no reference whatsoever to any solicitation by Representative DeLay or anyone acting on his behalf” (Memo of Chairman Hefley, p.14). Furthermore, the committee states that while the complaint says (in Paragraph 17) that the committee “should find that Rep. DeLay was ‘dispensing special favors’ in violation of House Rules,’ the complaint does not allege any particular ‘favors’ that Representative DeLay dispensed to Westar” (Memo of Chairman Hefley, p. 22).

Count II in the Bell allegations had to do with the Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (TRMPAC). On this count, the committee wrote: “[W]hatever Representative DeLay’s role was in the TRMPAC activities challenged in Count II, his participation in those activities, if any, was not related to the discharge of his or her official duties as a Member of the House” (Memo of Chairman Hefley, p. 32). This matter has been deferred while the actions in Texas are pending.

The committee then dismissed Count III in the Bell allegations, regarding the misuse of federal resources. The committee wrote: “In view of the thorough investigations of the contacts with the Justice Department and the Federal Aviation Administration that were conducted by the departmental Inspectors General [Author's Note: Those two Inspectors General had been appointed by President Clinton], as well as the additional information we obtained in our fact-gathering, there is no need for a formal investigation of the allegations of Count III. We recommend that insofar as Count III concerns the contacts with the Justice Department, it should be dismissed” (Memo of Chairman Hefley, pp. 39-40).

Press reports have focused almost exclusively on the committee’s letter of admonishment on minor matters, but the bottom line is the committee will not be opening an investigation to address Bell’s allegations. It has, however, said that it will consider DeLay’s objection that Bell’s complaint included “innuendo, speculative assertions and conclusory statements in violation of Committee Rule 15(a)(4).” The committee has indicated that this was a matter “that should be taken up separately by the Committee, and we intend to bring it before the Committee in the near future” (Memo of Chairman Hefley, p. 3).

In this regard, it seems that Bell’s complaint misstated the law about illegal gratuities and made accusations of this crime without any factual support–an example of the “significant gap” noted by the committee. Bell’s allegations stated the law as follows: “He [DeLay] also violated 18 U.S.C. 201(c), which provides that a public official who demands, seeks or agrees to receive anything of value for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such official is guilty of an offense.” The law regarding illegal gratuities actually states: “being a public official . . . [who] . . . accept[s] . . . anything of value personally for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such official . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than two years, or both.”

The text of the “illegal gratuity” statute, 18 U.S.C. 201 (c), concerns the receipt or acceptance of “anything of value personally.” Bell’s allegations left out “personally” in the discussion of the law. In doing so, Bell also outrageously compared DeLay to former Rep. Dan Flood (who was alleged to have taken money personally in exchange for legislative favors) and former Rep. Mario Biaggi (who took money personally and was convicted for receiving an illegal gratuity).

Bell’s actions have done a disservice to the institution of the House of Representatives–but Tom DeLay stands strong as our leader. As Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R., Va.) said Wednesday night: “Once again, Democrats took a swing at Tom DeLay and missed . . . the Tom DeLay I know is the strongest, clearest, and most principled conservative leader in Washington.”

Representative Tom Feeney is a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Florida.