Tom DeLay should resign as leader of the House Republican majority. If he doesn’t, Republicans should have the decency to remove him. He’s been rebuked unanimously four times by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee–which he then proceeded to purge and disembowel. Three of his political associates are under indictment in Texas for raising illegal corporate campaign contributions. He’s luxuriated in lavish junkets on the tab of crooked lobbyists and foreign agents. He’s given “family values” a new meaning by paying his wife and daughter $500,000 from his PACs for part-time work. And one of his cronies, “Casino Jack” Abramoff, who is under investigation for bilking Indian tribes and pressing them to donate to the GOP, says DeLay “knew everything” about what was going on.
Corruption isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a partisan issue. DeLay isn’t in trouble because he’s a conservative, as he claims. He’s in trouble because he is “The Hammer,” the “undisputed and unapologetic master”–as the Wall Street Journal puts it–of a Republican-controlled Congress whose hallmark is the flagrant exchange of legislative favors for campaign contributions.
In 1994 Newt Gingrich used charges of Democratic Party corruption to help Republicans win a majority in the House. He and his cohorts drove House speaker Jim Wright out of office for offenses including an improper book deal that wouldn’t merit even a mention on DeLay’s rap sheet. Ten years later, Gingrich is gone, a victim of his own ethical lapses and leadership failures, and DeLay, elected majority whip under Gingrich and then majority leader, has consolidated a corrupt shakedown operation that would have been the envy of Tammany Hall.
From day one, DeLay began constructing a blatant pay-to-play operation. As one example, DeLay was admonished by the ethics committee for violating “appearances” in the Westar Energy case. In 2002 Westar Energy executives wanted to cover $3 billion in losses from a failed burglar alarm business by moving the debt to its public utility and getting Kansas energy consumers to pay the tab. All that was needed was a waiver of the federal law that prohibited regulated utilities from engaging in exactly that sort of scheme. To get this written into the energy bill, Westar executives were given an itemized plan for $56,500 in contributions–$25,000 to go to DeLay’s Texas PAC and the rest to at least three other members of Congress. For this, they were told by their vice president, they would “get a seat at the table.” They made the contributions and joined DeLay for golf at a two-day energy conference at an exclusive Virginia resort. And Westar got its provision inserted in the energy bill. (It was quietly removed after the Westar CEO was indicted on forty counts, including wire fraud and falsifying records.)
DeLay’s operations give him immense power over the Republican caucus. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, DeLay collected $22.4 million from 1989 to 2004, half of which went to helping more than 200 fellow members of Congress. In return, legislators grateful for his financial support toe his line–or learn that his wrath can be costly. DeLay earned another rebuke from the ethics committee for offering GOP legislator Nick Smith what Smith initially described as a bribe to change his vote on the prescription drug bill. If Smith voted for the bill, he first reported, his son’s campaign to replace him would get $100,000 in contributions. If he continued to vote against it, his son would face costly opposition in the primary. Smith later said there was no actual sum mentioned–that would be illegal. But the House Ethics Committee unanimously rebuked DeLay for promising Smith favors in return for his vote.