WASHINGTON – House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search), admonished by the House ethics committee for using improper bargaining to try to persuade a fellow Republican to change his vote on a Medicare prescription drug bill, could face another investigation by the panel.
The committee on Thursday approved an investigative report that serves as "a public admonishment" against DeLay, R-Texas, Rep. Candice Miller (search), R-Mich., and the lawmaker they were trying to influence, Rep. Nick Smith (search), R-Mich.
The committee found after its six-month investigation that DeLay and Miller linked a favorable vote by Smith to support of the House candidacy of Smith's son, but that Smith went too far in alleging that financial support was offered.
The committee still must decide whether to dismiss or appoint an investigative subcommittee to probe a separate three-part complaint against DeLay filed by Rep. Chris Bell (search), R-Texas.
The complaint alleges DeLay misused his office and federal resources for political purposes related to elections and redistricting in Texas. The 10-member committee, divided along party lines, is under no deadline to make that decision.
The public admonishments issued in the case of Smith's Medicare vote are the lightest punishment the ethics committee can issue when it finds House rules have been violated.
The investigation, by a four-member subcommittee, was triggered when the retiring Smith said that unidentified lawmakers and business interests promised substantial money to his son's congressional campaign if he voted for the Medicare legislation.
Smith said the same interests threatened to support other candidates if he didn't change his vote from "no" to "yes."
He was not persuaded and stuck with his vote against the legislation in the Nov. 22, 2003, tally that ended at 5:51 a.m. The legislation passed the House by five votes.
It is common for lawmakers to trade legislative votes to get legislation passed, the committee said. However, promising political support for a member's relative "goes beyond the boundaries of party discipline and should not be used as the basis of a bargain for members to achieve their respective goals," the committee said.
"There's an ethical cloud over this Capitol because of how he's conducting the business here," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday, referring to DeLay. "It was an offer of a quid pro quo, a political quid pro quo for a vote, and that is completely inappropriate, and if that isn't clear to everyone then we really have a problem here in Washington D.C."
DeLay said he accepted the committee's guidance that linking official actions with political considerations is impermissible and violates House rules.
"During my entire career I have worked to advance my party's legislative agenda. However, to this end, I would never knowingly violate the rules of the House," he said. "I deeply believe that as members of the House we must conduct ourselves at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on this institution."
Miller said she accepted "their findings that I may have committed a 'discreet violation of the rules.' I also agree with the committee's finding that there was no evidence adduced of a pattern of misconduct."
Smith said now that the committee has ruled, it is time to "move on from this unpleasant episode."
"What seems to be lost in the debate over the prescription drug vote is the fact that many members refused to vote for the Medicare bill despite enormous pressure," Smith said in a statement Friday.
Smith stated to the committee that DeLay said to him, in a conversation that lasted about eight seconds: "I will personally endorse your son. That's my last offer." DeLay's account was mostly consistent with that of Smith, the report said.
Miller made a statement to Smith "that referenced the congressional candidacy" of Smith's son, the committee said. "Representative Smith fairly interpreted Representative Miller's statements to him during the vote as a threat of retaliation against him for voting in opposition to the bill."
Miller recalled that she said something like, "Well, I hope your son doesn't come to Congress, or I'm not going to support your son, or something to that effect."
The report said Smith then "rose up out of his seat and said, 'You get out of here."'
In finding fault with Smith, the report said his statements about the financial offer "appear to have been the result of speculation or exaggeration" on his part.
Smith said the amount offered for his son's campaign was $100,000. But on Dec. 5, Smith partially reversed himself in an interview with The Associated Press.
He said someone outside Congress had offered his son "substantial and aggressive campaign support" and Smith assumed that meant financial support. He said it was "technically incorrect" to say money was offered.
His son, Brad, lost in a six-candidate primary.