Republicans seek to reduce ethics rules

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Saturday, January 1, 2005

Republican members of the House of Representatives are proposing a bill that would reduce the standard of ethical conduct required of representatives. Currently, the House expects a high level of ethical conduct, beyond the minimum required by law. The proposal, backed by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), would reduce the expectation to only require the lowest level of conduct. With the new rules, representatives would only be admonished if they actually violate the law.

The current rules were used for the admonishment of Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). The committee found issue with the appearance that he had provided legislative favors with the Federal Aviation Administration for political donors in a Texas political dispute, and with improperly offering support for another Republican representative's son in exchange for the lawmaker's vote in a Medicare issue.

Democrats and watchdog groups point out that the loss of ethical rules would be a serious blow to the government. Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, added, "If House Republican leaders are allowed to prevail, they will have gutted the single most important ethics standard in the House and turned House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's multiple ethics transgressions into acceptable conduct for all House members."

The GOP has previously attempted to legislate rules to protect DeLay. In November 2004 the House Republicans proposed a rule change that would allow members indicted by state grand juries to retain their leadership posts, in reaction to a concern that DeLay would be indicted by a Texas grand jury. The jury had indicted three of DeLay's political associates. A number of House Republicans benefitted from an aggressive redistricting in Texas led by DeLay that led to the defeat of 5 democrat incumbents. The indictment rule had been adopted by the House Republicans in 1993 when they were trying to end four decades of Democrat control of the House.