WASHINGTON—House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, is taking hits from the political left and right over his ethics problems.
On Wednesday, the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal pressure group, will release a TV ad showing a cufflinked, Rolex-wearing man washing his hands. "Tom DeLay," says the ad, obtained by Knight Ridder: "He'd like to wash his hands of corruption."
The 30-second ad, which will run in DeLay's suburban Houston district starting Thursday, follows Monday's scorching editorial in the usually pro-Republican Wall Street Journal, which said that DeLay's ethics problems have an "odor" that "smells like Beltway."
The TV ad urges Congress to get rid of DeLay for what the group considers to be his ethical shortcomings: taking a trip to Korea from a registered foreign agent, fund-raising irregularities that have brought three of his close associates under indictment in Texas; and for appearing to exploit the brain-damaged Terri Schiavo for his political ends.
While the Journal stopped short of calling for DeLay to step down, it listed a series of ethical questions swirling around the Texan. Those include his taking questionable trips arranged by discredited GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who along with former DeLay aide Michael Scanlon, is under federal and Senate investigation for allegedly defrauding Indian tribes of millions of dollars.
That's not the style of government promised by the 1994 Gingrich Revolution that swept Republicans to a majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years, said the Journal, long influential with Republican elites.
"Whether Mr. DeLay violated the small print of House Ethics or campaign-finance rules is thus largely beside the point," the editorial said. "His real fault lies in betraying the broader set of principles that brought him into office, and which, if he continues as before, sooner or later will sweep him out."
Asked for comment, DeLay's spokesman, Dan Allen, said:
"These groups are funded by Democratic heavy hitters like George Soros. They have clear ties to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. This proves that there is a carefully coordinated campaign and well-organized attack against House Republicans because House Democrats have no ideas, no agenda and no solutions."
The Campaign for America's Future, sponsor of the new ad, issued this statement in reply to Allen's comment:
"Majority Leader Tom DeLay has sold the House out to the highest corporate bidder. Attacking a group supported by thousands of hard-working Americans doesn't help DeLay's defense. This is a test of the integrity of the Republican Party."
The growing clamor over DeLay's ethics could threaten his political future, although the 232 House Republicans who elected him their leader haven't turned against him so far. He has maintained that he's the object of partisan attacks and has denied doing anything wrong.
But Democratic activists are turning up the heat.
"He's a walking scandal," said David Donnelly, the political director of Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonpartisan group devoted to campaign-finance reform, and writer of the Daily DeLay Web log. "It's time for him to go." The blog has a petition with almost 20,000 signatures calling for DeLay to resign.
"I think Tom DeLay is in a lot of trouble because he's become a liability to the people he saved, the Republican Party," said American University political historian Allan J. Lichtman. "The Schiavo case hurt him a great deal because it looks like political cover."
Earlier this month, DeLay told a gathering of political conservatives that God had sent them the Schiavo case to awaken Americans to how conservatives are under attack.
The Journal's conservative editorial page may have delivered the most damaging blow, Lichtman said, because "it's friendly fire."
"It's far more damaging when your own forces turn on you."
Still, DeLay has staying power.
"The Republicans generally circle the wagons in much better fashion than the Democrats do," said former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, who lost his seat in 2004 due to a DeLay-led redistricting effort. "It would take an awful lot for the Republicans to show him the door."
The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the ethics committee is formally known, is locked in a partisan deadlock and isn't conducting investigations.
Last year the panel admonished DeLay three times in a week for excessive partisanship that looked ethically dubious. After that, DeLay and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., named a new chairman for the panel, fired its staffers and rewrote ethics rules to make it harder to start an investigation.
The committee is split evenly between the two parties, and panel Democrats have refused to accept the new rules, so the panel is inactive.
"The Democrats have chosen to shut down the ethics committee," said Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean. "The only solution is if the Democrats choose to put the ethics process above the partisan process."
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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