WASHINGTON – Allegations that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search) misused his office will be on the House ethics committee's agenda as early as next week.
After several months of gathering evidence, the committee must decide whether to launch a formal investigation of the Texas Republican or dismiss the case. There is no deadline limiting the time for the committee of five Republicans and five Democrats to act.
A three-part complaint is now before the committee.
Two allegations directly involve use of DeLay's congressional office. One accuses him of soliciting corporate contributions in return for assistance on legislation.
A second contends he improperly used his staff to contact U.S. aviation authorities, asking them to track down Texas Democratic legislators who had fled the state while trying to thwart a DeLay-backed redistricting plan (search).
The third allegation accuses DeLay of using his political action committees to distribute money from corporations to Texas legislative candidates, in violation of state law.
DeLay has replied to the committee, but has not released his response publicly.
Any investigation of DeLay would have political overtones, since he has great influence over which bills move through the House and also supports the campaigns of GOP members.
Some House Democratic leaders have strongly criticized his conduct, but they let Rep. Chris Bell (search) -- a freshman Texas Democrat defeated in the primary — to file the complaint.
Committee members said they expect the panel, formally the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, to meet next week.
Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., said he and ranking Democrat Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., will make recommendations to the committee based on the fact-finding inquiry by the panel's staff.
If the Democrats all vote for a formal investigation, at least one Republican would have to join them to initiate the inquiry.
"I would be amazed if there was a 5-5 deadlock," Hefley said.
DeLay said this week, "The ethics committee will do the right thing."