- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2005

The accusations against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay run the gamut from enriching family members by putting them on his organization’s payroll to having lobbyists pay for his trips abroad to Russia, Scotland and elsewhere.

A renowned fundraiser during his nearly 21-year congressional tenure as a Texas Republican, Mr. DeLay staunchly denies any wrongdoing and said he wants to appear before the ethics committee to clear his name.

“[P]erception now is a new standard for me,” Mr. DeLay told The Washington Times.

“I know I have been watched and investigated probably more than even Bill Clinton,” he said. “They can’t find anything, so they’re going back to my childhood, going to my family, going to things that happened eight years ago. There’s nothing there.”

Watchdog groups contend that, as the accusations stand, Mr. DeLay has not broken any laws. But they say that if the accusations are true, Mr. DeLay is in violation of multiple House rules and that there is legitimate justification for the ethics committee to sanction or even expel him from Congress.

In the last month, carefully worded articles that have raised questions about Mr. DeLay include:

• A New York Times report last month that a probe of his disclosure forms revealed that Mr. DeLay’s campaign committee and political action committee paid more than $500,000 to the congressman’s wife and daughter since 2001.

Mr. DeLay is not alone among members of Congress in putting relatives on his campaign staff, though his were better-paid than most.

• An article in The Washington Post last month on a six-day trip to Moscow in 1997 taken by Mr. DeLay, then House majority whip, that was paid for by a business interest lobbying in support of the Russian government.

• Other reports that state Mr. DeLay participated in similarly financed trips to London, Scotland and South Korea. Specifically, The Post last week reported that a 2000 golfing trip he made to Scotland was paid for with an American Express credit card in the name of Jack Abramoff, a registered Washington lobbyist under federal investigation, though Mr. Abramoff was reimbursed by an interest group.

Payment of money to Mr. DeLay’s wife and daughter was “not technically illegal” but it could reflect negatively on the House, said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that Mr. DeLay criticized last year.

“It may be a violation of House rules because of the excessive nature of payments, particularly to his wife who has no experience as a political consultant,” Mrs. Sloan said. “Think of the reaction had Bill Clinton been paying Hillary Clinton as a political consultant during eight years in the White House.”

However, Mrs. Sloan and others, including Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, another government watchdog group in Washington, said the more serious accusation is that Mr. DeLay has repeatedly traveled overseas at the expense of lobbyists.

The question of whether he may be punished is largely “contingent on whether or not he knew about the nature of the funding of these trips,” Mr. Fitton said. “If he did, it would be an absolute violation of House rules.”

In reference to Mr. DeLay’s 2000 golfing trip to Scotland, reportedly funded by Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Fitton said the question is whether Mr. DeLay “knew or should have known that Jack Abramoff was paying for this trip.”

A House rule on members’ travel explicitly states that the source of “travel expenses may not be either a registered lobbyist or a registered foreign agent.”

Mr. DeLay is expected in the coming weeks to appear before the House ethics committee, which last year “admonished” him — ultimately a public criticism and dismissal of charges.

The ethics committee deferred further investigation on one charge, pending the outcome of an ongoing probe by a Texas prosecutor into a Texas political action committee with ties to Mr. DeLay.

Mr. DeLay was admonished for three actions: pressuring a Michigan Republican to vote in favor of a 2003 Medicare bill by offering to endorse his son in a congressional race; creating the appearance that contributors gained special access to him when he attended a golf fundraiser with energy companies while an energy bill was being considered; and creating the appearance that he improperly communicated with U.S. aviation authorities for political purposes when he had a staffer ask the Federal Aviation Administration for the plan of a flight carrying Texas Democratic lawmakers who were trying to avoid a vote on redistricting.

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