In 2003, I organized a petition drive to oust Tom DeLay from office and presented copies of the petition signed by several thousand fellow Americans to the offices of Rep. Joel Hefley, former chairman of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, and Rep. Alan B. Mollohan, who is still ranking minority member of that committee.
The grounds I used were for misconduct and violation of House rules, especially the first rule of the House Code of Ethics, which states, “A member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall conduct himself at all times in a manner which shall reflect creditably on the House of Representatives.”
At the same time, Public Citizen and other groups and individuals contacted the same committee with similar requests. We couldn’t file official ethics complaints because House leaders had passed rules years before stopping individual groups and citizens from doing so. Only members of Congress could file a formal complaint, and they rarely did.
So our efforts didn’t immediately start an investigation on DeLay, and they were never really acknowledged by the House committee. But I believe they helped lead to an environment in which officials started questioning DeLay’s abuses more and gave the committee some support to go after DeLay.
In mid-2004, former Rep. Chris Bell, one of the Texas Democratic congress members targeted by DeLay in his illegal corporate-funded redistricting scheme, filed a formal complaint against DeLay to the committee. Abuses cited by Bell included DeLay’s intervention in the redistricting conflict when he asked officials with the Federal Aviation Administration to track the plane taking protesting Democrats out of Texas to Oklahoma. A few months later, the committee admonished DeLay for that and other matters.
DeLay got his shots in when members like Bell lost their seats in late 2004 and Republicans picked up more positions because of the scheme. Also, under reported pressure from DeLay, Hefley was removed from the ethics committee in early 2005.
But then DeLay’s world crumbled when he was indicted for the corrupt funding of the redistricting scam in the fall of 2005 by Travis County DA Ronnie Earle. The indictment forced DeLay to step down as house majority leader.
Then came the aides who were convicted on Abramoff-related corruption charges, including Tony Rudy, DeLay’s former deputy chief of staff. Rudy said the crimes were committed directly in DeLay’s offices and promised to cooperate more, leading to DeLay’s sudden decision to resign entirely.
Way back in 2003 when I started my oust DeLay petition drive, I had no idea DeLay would be resigning less than three years later. But I knew I had to do something. I didn’t know what would become of the matter when I walked through the halls of Congress and presented the petition to the Congress offices, including to ethics committee members and DeLay’s, in Nov. 2003. I just knew something had to be done.
You have to start the ball rolling somewhere and believe that someday some good will come of it. We may live in a corrupt nation, but individuals still can make a difference.
Jackson Thoreau is a Washington, D.C.-area journalist/writer. His latest book, “Born to Cheat: How Bush, Cheney, Rove & Co. Broke the Rules, From the Sandlot to the White House,” is due out this summer.