- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

House ethics committee leaders stood up for their Republican members yesterday, insisting the lawmakers could act impartially in deciding whether Majority Leader Tom DeLay misused his office.

Chairman Joel Hefley, Colorado Republican, and senior Democrat Alan B. Mollohan of West Virginia defended the Republican committee members against conflict-of-interest questions raised by congressional watchdog groups and Democratic House candidates.

The private groups have insisted that an outside counsel conduct an investigation, since Republicans would be investigating the floor leader who controls the bills that come to a vote and has supported lawmakers with political contributions.

In recent days, with three DeLay political associates indicted in Texas in a campaign-finance case, some Democratic candidates are stepping up attacks — insisting that Republicans return donations from Mr. DeLay’s political action committee.

Rep. Robert T. Matsui of California, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called on Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, Ohio Republican — an ethics committee member — to give back $10,000 in contributions from Mr. DeLay’s PAC. Mr. LaTourette has told reporters he would not be influenced by the donations.

Mr. Hefley and Mr. Mollohan have placed charges that the Texas Republican misused his office before the full, 10-member House Standards of Official Conduct Committee, usually referred to as the House ethics committee, which is evenly divided by party.

The committee has not yet decided whether to dismiss the charges or appoint an investigative subcommittee to probe some or all of the charges by freshman Rep. Chris Bell, Texas Democrat.

Mr. DeLay’s political action committee gave $81,077 in the last decade to 10 Republicans who are part of a pool who could be chosen to serve on an investigative subcommittee in the case. Four of the five committee Republicans were among those receiving contributions.

“It is important to state emphatically our belief in the integrity and ability of every member of this committee,” the committee chairmen said.

“Both of us are confident in the ability of each of our fellow members, without exception, to execute their responsibilities faithfully and fairly, regardless of any political affiliations or personal relationships. If either of us believed that any committee member were unable to discharge his or her duties properly, we would seek to have that member removed from the committee.”

Several congressional watchdog groups were not swayed.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, said, “It’s so typical of the ethics committee. They’ll excuse any behavior. This is just another attempt to whitewash unethical behavior.”

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, said, “There’s an inherent conflict and tension when members of one party are asked to investigate a powerful leader of that party in the House.”

The committee has named outside investigators in the past in high-profile investigations, including the probe of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican.

Mr. Bell accused Mr. DeLay of soliciting corporate contributions in return for help on legislation. He also contends Mr. DeLay improperly used his staff to ask U.S. aviation authorities to track down Texas Democratic legislators who had fled the state while trying to thwart his redistricting plan.

The third charge accuses Mr. DeLay of using political action committees to distribute money from corporations in violation of Texas law.

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