We are judged by the company we keep. These wise words, spoken by my mom in hopes of keeping me from running with the wrong crowd, would be well heeded by members of the Republican Party in Washington and Texas. One of their most prominent members, one Tom DeLay, has been cavorting with unseemly types, making rash accusations and, perhaps worse, been pushing the legal boundaries of bribery.
DeLay, the congressional House majority leader, has been embattled with Democrats over the previous year since being admonished by the House Ethics Committee. The charges ranged from improprieties over fundraising to the use of the National Guard to try to detain Texas Democrats who opposed his gerrymandering of the state's congressional districts. DeLay, of course, has denied any wrongdoing and typically has blamed his troubles on the "liberal media."
Unfortunately for the congressman and his supporters, the problem is not quite that simple. Where there is smoke there is usually fire, and this case is no exception. DeLay is increasingly proving to display not only poor judgment in his friends, but also a reckless disregard for the rules of Congress and separation of powers.
The building scandal contains many facets for scrutiny. The wrongdoings brought to light by the ethics committee were simply the beginning. More recently has been the discloser that DeLay's wife and daughter have been paid more than $500,000 by political organizations under the congressman's influence.
Spokespeople for the family have of course denied any wrongdoing and claimed that the pair was properly paid for work rendered. Another perspective offered by some is that the payments were simply a way of currying favor with the powerful Republican in return for favorable votes.
These extortion charges have gained momentum of late with the disclosure of DeLay's cavorting with one of Washington's most notoriously crooked lobbyists, Jack Abramoff. Abramoff, known in the Capitol as "Casino Jack," has made millions off the time-honored American tradition of bilking Native Americans from their possessions.
Abramoff's schemes were brilliant in their simplicity and effectiveness. On one hand he would quietly push for legislation against the expansion of Indian casinos. After initiating the change he would show up at the tribe's doorstep and appear as its savior, the one man who had enough politicians on his payroll that he could save the tribes from the further tyranny of the white man.
This is where DeLay came in. As the most powerful politician in Texas, short of the president, Abramoff recommended to the tribe that gaining favor with the congressman was probably in their best interests. Money, funding trips to Russia and a golf outing to Scotland for DeLay, his family and handlers was thus funneled through conservative political action committees. DeLay sees no conflict in this, of course, and has up until now defended his actions while coming short of full disclosure.
DeLay's disregard for honesty in legislation is not his only fault. The man seems to have a propensity to try to mold the government to his needs and desires. When the House committee admonished him last year, he simply changed the rules to make it harder for such charges to be applied in Congress.
More recently, in the Terri Schiavo fiasco, DeLay went on the offensive against judges who were simply doing their jobs by ending the cycle. DeLay has since threatened the federal judges with retribution and is obviously seeking to weaken the judicial branch.
The previously mentioned Abramoff has described DeLay as among his "closest and dearest friends." This past weekend Whitehouse spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush considers DeLay "a friend." And thus the circle is complete. The current administration has been unabashed in its support of big business and unchecked capitalism. That it sees no problem with this form of watered-down bribery should come as no surprise.
JP Eichmiller is a senior technical journalism major. His column runs every Wednesday.