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Inside Politics

House Ethics Committee admonishes DeLay again

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau
DeLay says attacks against him have fallen short "not because of insufficient venom but because of insufficient merit."
Tom DeLay
House of Representatives

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the second time in two weeks, the House Ethics Committee has issued admonishments to Majority Leader Tom DeLay over his conduct, warning the Texas Republican to "temper" his future actions to comply with House rules and standards of conduct.

The committee announced Wednesday evening that it had unanimously admonished DeLay on two counts of an ethics complaint filed against him by Rep. Chris Bell, a Texas Democrat who lost his re-election bid after Texas legislators passed a redistricting plan engineered by the No. 2 House Republican.

One of Wednesday's admonishments stemmed from a fund-raiser DeLay hosted for energy company officials while Congress was considering major energy legislation. The other concerned contacts his office had with the Federal Aviation Administration during a partisan fight over redistricting in Texas.

The committee deferred action on a third count in the complaint -- alleging fund-raising irregularities in DeLay's political action committee back in Texas -- because of an ongoing state criminal investigation.

DeLay released a statement saying he would "accept the committee's guidance." But he also accused Bell of "manipulating the ethics process in pursuit of his personal vendetta."

"For years, Democrats have hurled relentless personal attacks at me, hoping to tie my hands and smear my name," he said. "All have fallen short, not because of insufficient venom but because of insufficient merit."

With the admonishments, which carry no penalty, the ethics committee said it would take no further action on those two counts in Bell's complaint. In his statement, DeLay said the committee's decision amounted to "dismissing Mr. Bell's embellished allegations with bipartisan unanimity."

The committee also said it found no evidence to support the allegation in Bell's complaint that Westar Energy Inc. gave $25,000 to DeLay's PAC to influence energy legislation, finding that he took no action with regard to Westar "that would constitute an impermissible special favor."

Last week, DeLay was also admonished by the committee on another complaint, related to a promise DeLay made to a fellow GOP House member to endorse his son's bid for Congress in return for the lawmaker's vote for the Medicare prescription drug bill.

"Three admonishments in a week is pretty serious," a Democratic leadership aide said. "He can't say it's partisan because it's a bipartisan committee."

In a report released late Wednesday, the committee raised objections to a June 2002 golf resort fund-raiser for DeLay's leadership PAC attended by energy company officials, which took place as House and Senate conferees were about to hash out energy legislation.

In a letter to DeLay, the committee said the fund-raiser created an "improper appearance." It also quoted one of the attendees as telling the committee that DeLay asked the group "to advise him of any interest we had" in the energy bill.

The letter noted that DeLay told the ethics panel that he did not remember making such a remark and that it would have been untypical for him to make such a comment at a fund-raiser. However, the committee said the entire circumstances of the fund-raiser led to the unanimous conclusion that it amounted to an appearance of impropriety.

The committee also unanimously found that DeLay's office improperly contacted the Federal Aviation Administration in May 2003 to track a plane carrying Texas Democratic legislators, who had fled the state two thwart the Republican plan to redraw the state's congressional district map.

The ethics committee said the contacts with the FAA amounted to an improper use of governmental resources for a political undertaking, dismissing as "unpersuasive" DeLay's arguments that the contacts were proper.

The committee put off action on a third count in the complaint, which charges that DeLay, through his PAC in Texas, funneled corporate contributions to candidates for state office. Three people associated with the PAC, Texans for a Republican Majority, were indicted in Texas last month on money laundering charges.

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