It was an embarrassment for the Republicans when the House ethics committee slapped majority leader Tom DeLay with two ethics violations in October, and one that likely won't happen again. Congressional Republicans have figured out a solution to DeLay's ethical problems -- dump Joel Heffley, the ethics committee chairman, and change the House code of ethics to make violations like DeLay's acceptable conduct. From The Associated Press:
"Rep. Joel Hefley's days as chairman of the House ethics committee may be numbered.
"After co-authoring an admonishment of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Republican from Colorado is on House Speaker Dennis Hastert's list of chairmen likely to be replaced when Congress begins its new session on Tuesday."
Of course, Hastert's spokesman insists that it's nothing personal, and that "House rules" demand Hastert appoint a new committee chairman. "That interpretation of the rules is likely to be disputed," the AP notes, "but in any case the speaker can install a new chairman at his discretion."
If that weren't enough, Hastert is now mulling over a Republican plan to repeal large chunks of the House's ethics code entirely. "The proposal being circulated among House Republicans would end a general rule against any behavior that might bring "discredit" on the chamber, according to House Republican and Democratic leadership aides," notes the AP.
But while replacing the independent-minded Hefley with a partisan hack and lowering the House's overall ethical should ensure that DeLay never has to suffer another slap on the wrist, it won't derail the more serious grand jury investigation of illegal campaign fundraising by a Texas political action committee tied to the majority leader. Eight corporations and three of DeLay's political associates were indicted for illegal campaign fundraising under charges brought by a Travis County, Texas District Attorney, who appears to be using a "kingpin" strategy of offering the indicted corporations immunity from prosecution in exchange for their help in investigating the PAC's leaders. Three weeks ago, one of the companies, Diversified Collection Services, agreed to work with prosecutors, and today a second, Sears, rolled over. From the AP:
"Sears was accused of making a $25,000 donation to Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee with ties to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, during the 2002 legislative campaign. The use of corporate money for political purposes is illegal in Texas."
"'We're certainly delighted with the dismissal in that we had maintained all along that we had not done anything illegal. We're very pleased to put this past us,' said Robert J. O'Leary, a Sears senior vice president.
"The agreement calls for Sears to cooperate with Texas 'in its prosecution and investigation of any other person for any offense related to the corporate contribution' that Sears made."
After two years of grand jury investigations, DeLay himself has yet to be charged. Still, the Travis County DA appears to be a patient fellow. Happy New Year, Mr. DeLay.