WASHINGTON – House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (search) political action committee gave $81,077 in the last decade to 10 Republicans who could be asked to investigate allegations the Texas lawmaker misused his office.
It's not unusual for leaders of both parties in Congress to form political committees that contribute to rank-and-file lawmakers. However, when allegations of impropriety arise, those donations can present potential conflicts.
Four of the five Republicans on the ethics committee, which is weighing whether to launch a formal investigation of Delay, also received donations from his Americans for a Republican Majority PAC (search).
The committee has until Sept. 20 to decide whether to investigate allegations DeLay improperly used his office to raise money and to get federal authorities to track down Texas Democratic legislators. They had fled the state to prevent Republicans from getting a quorum to pass a GOP redistricting plan.
Freshman Rep. Chris Bell (search), D-Texas, filed a complaint against DeLay last month. The Republican leader denies the allegations and has labeled the complaint frivolous.
Should the committee choose to investigate, it could appoint four of its members, two from each party, to conduct the probe.
Or the committee could assign the investigation to two of its members — one from each party — and one Republican and one Democrat from a larger pool. The pool, appointed by party leaders, consists of 10 members from each party.
All 10 Republicans appointed by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., received money from DeLay's PAC, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, a nonpartisan organization that tracks contributions. The donations ranged from the $545 to Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas to $20,000 to Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk.
DeLay has said the contributions do not create a conflict because Democrats on the committee also have accepted donations from party leaders' fund-raising groups. DeLay also said congressional watchdog groups that criticized his fund raising activities are tools of the Democratic Party.
"If partisan Democrats and their sham front groups want to play that silly gotcha game, then it should be noted that their glass house is filled with campaign cash from both national and Texas Democrat leaders," said DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella.
Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's two leadership PACs have given $55,000 to three Democrats in the pool since 2000, according to PoliticalMoneyLine. Pelosi became minority leader in November 2002.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of the liberal-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said anyone who has accepted money from DeLay's fund-raising group should not be allowed to investigate him. Sloan, a former federal prosecutor, said lawmakers conducting an ethics investigation are the equivalent of a jury pool.
"If you've been given money by the defendant, you are kicked off a jury," she said. "Somehow that's good enough for the criminal justice system, but not for Congress."
If the committee decides it cannot investigate on its own, it could agree to appoint an outside counsel.
The congressman who brought the complaint lost his re-election primary after his district was altered by a DeLay-orchestrated realignment of Texas congressional districts in 2003.