Phase One of DeLay Ethics Probe Ends

The House ethics committee ended its initial information gathering Monday and now must decide whether to order a formal investigation of whether Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search) has misused his office.

The ethics panel could meet this week to determine whether to appoint an investigative subcommittee, but there is no deadline. The informal fact-finding had to end Monday under a committee timetable.

A three-part complaint was filed by a Democratic lawmaker defeated in the primary, Rep. Chris Bell (search) of Texas.

Two allegations directly involve use of DeLay's congressional office. One accuses the Texas Republican 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.

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.

Last week, committee chairman Joel Hefley (search), R-Colo., and senior Democrat Alan Mollohan (search) of West Virginia said they had been reviewing information but had not determined how to proceed.