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THE HOUSE
Dems not shaken by threats of ethics complaints from GOP

By John Byrne | RAW STORY

After an article today said Republicans will likely file ethics charges against Democrats in the wake of ethics woes circling House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), Democratic aides are unshaken, believing they will emerge on top should the GOP file ethics complaints against them in retaliation, RAW STORY has found.

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The aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity, represent a broad swath of the caucus. The general mood among staff is high; Democrats are pleased they won the day Wednesday, forcing Republicans to backtrack on controversial rules changes they forced through in the wake of DeLay’s admonishment last year.

Though aides expressed confidence that any Democrats who might be targeted would be exonerated, they stopped short of Sen. Kerry’s presidential campaign maxim, “bring it on.”

Democrats—and others who follow ethics on Capitol Hill—suggest several Republican House members could face ethics charges. Among Democrats, DeLay is joined by Reps. Bob Ney (R-OH) and Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), both of whom appear entangled with lobbyist and onetime DeLay golfing partner Jack Abramoff, who has emerged as a thundercloud over the Republican caucus.

“There’s probably a lot of people with Abramoff connections that could get caught up in that web,” one Democratic aide said.

In response, Republican aides have raised concerns about Democratic members. They note that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) paid a fine to resolve concerns about her political action committees; take issue with Rep. Jim McDermott’s (D-WA) decision to give a copy of an eavesdropped call to newspapers during the investigation of former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; snipe at Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (D-OH), regarding travel sponsorship to Puerto Rico; and attack Rep. Paul Kajorski (D-PA) over alleged favoritism.

The complaints against DeLay, however, appear more serious and are greater in number. DeLay has been alleged to have engaged in everything from campaign finance violations, to abusing his power in redistricting Texas, to allowing lobbyists to pay for foreign travel. He’s also been admonished three times already by his Republican colleagues—more than any other member in the history of the House.

But if Republicans do decide to move against Democrats, staffers believe they will be cleared.

“There’s a huge difference between simple mistakes in paperwork and systematic and concerted efforts to violate the rules of the House,” one Democratic veteran remarked.

“It shouldn’t be a focus of technical oversight,” another added. “The focus should stay on whether or not influence is being bought in Congress through lavish trips and other gifts, not members who have technical or other type of oversight on trip filings.”

One Democratic aide scoffed at complaints against Pelosi.

“If the Republicans are going to go after every member of Congress for a [Federal Election Commission] violation, they should hold a mirror to their own conference,” the aide remarked. “I would estimate that close to a dozen Republican members—including Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Deborah Pryce (R-OH) in the Republican leadership—have had FEC fines.”

Some believe that any moves on Democratic members will ultimately hurt Republicans more.

“There’s a belief that when you tarnish the House, the majority party gets more of the blame and more of the blowback than the minority party,” one staffer said. “So Republicans probably are, and should be, concerned about starting an ethics complaint.”

Several stressed that they felt ethics issues weren’t partisan, and that concerns about DeLay’s alleged infractions were fair—that any member who gives the appearance of being unethical brings scorn upon the entire Congress.

“This is a question of broader ethics and principles, and the Republicans came in in 1994 saying that they wanted to run the House differently and saying they wanted to have more transparency and to make the people’s House more responsive to the people,” a longtime aide remarked. “Unfortunately it’s gone just the opposite way.”

Ultimately, it is Republicans who will decide whether to file complaints against Democratic members.

“We’ve heard the threats the Speaker’s made, and clearly they’re trying to muddy the waters,” a staffer said. “We’ll see if they follow through.”

Article originally published Apr. 28, 2005.

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