Ethics Panel Eyes DeLay

The House ethics committee said Tuesday it will review a complaint from a Texas congressman that accuses House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search), a fellow Texan, of "serious criminal acts."

The committee said Democratic Rep. Chris Bell (search) met House rules for filing such a complaint. The decision is largely procedural and is not based on the merits of the allegations.

DeLay, a Republican, has called the complaint filed last week the product of a disgruntled lawmaker. Bell, a freshman, lost his re-election bid in Texas' March primaries after Republicans redrew his Houston district.

The committee's decision Tuesday triggers a 45-day review of the complaint.

After the review, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (search) can choose from among three steps: establish an investigative subcommittee to look into the complaint's allegations; extend the review another 45 days; or recommend dismissal of the complaint or parts of it.

Bell called the committee's move "an important first step in the long journey to restore integrity and ethics to the people's House and to hold the House majority leader accountable for his actions."

DeLay said at a briefing earlier Tuesday that GOP House members have expressed misgivings to him about the "use of the ethics committee for political gains." He said he addressed the concerns in the Republicans' weekly conference meeting, saying the party would respond by passing its agenda.

"I'm not going to attempt to influence the ethics committee," the Republican leader said. "I have every confidence the ethics committee will do the right thing."

In the complaint, Bell made three charges:

— That DeLay illegally solicited and accepted political contributions from Kansas-based Westar Energy Corp. (search) in return for legislative favors. Westar executives, at the time in 2002 the company was lobbying for a provision in a major energy bill, contributed $58,200 to various campaigns and political action committees, including $25,000 to DeLay's PAC, Texans for a Republican Majority.

— That DeLay's PAC in September 2002 sent $190,000 in corporate money to the Republican National Committee (search) "in an apparent money-laundering scheme" intended to provide money for GOP candidates to the Texas state legislature.

— That in 2003, when the Texas legislature was battling over the GOP redistricting plan, DeLay abused his office by asking the Federal Aviation Administration (search) to track down a private plane that carried some Democratic legislators away from Austin to prevent Republicans from getting a quorum to vote on the plan.