LaHood Blasts Ethics Charges Like Bell’s

Posted June 16, 2004 at 6:47pm

One day after outgoing Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas) filed an ethics complaint against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) launched a long-shot effort to block lame-duck Members from being able to file ethics complaints in the future.

Earlier this year, Bell lost in a Democratic primary after DeLay led a remapping effort that drastically changed Bell’s district. On Monday, Bell filed a 187-page complaint with the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct charging DeLay with a range of alleged ethical transgressions.

In an interview, LaHood said he had not considered such constraints on lame-duck Members before Bell acted.

“I just thought of it when he filed,” LaHood said.

After explaining his idea to his colleagues at a Republican Conference meeting, LaHood offered the proposal Wednesday as an amendment to the fiscal 2005 legislative-branch appropriations bill during a subcommittee markup. LaHood’s amendment failed, 5-5, with Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) joining four Democrats in voting no.

“It would discredit the House if it appears we’re trying to short-circuit the [ethics] process,” said Appropriations ranking member David Obey (D-Wis.).

Aside from Kirk, the other five Republicans on the legislative branch subcommittee, including LaHood, all voted in favor of the measure. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) suggested watering down LaHood’s proposal so that lame-duck Members could file complaints regarding incidents that occur after their election defeats.

While Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) voted in favor of the proposal and said afterward that he supported it in spirit, he also cautioned that he believed such a change would fall within the purview of the Rules Committee rather than his own panel.

“I just don’t think it belongs on an Appropriations bill,” Young said.

Ethics Chairman Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) was more critical of the bill, suggesting that he would definitely not support such a change in House rules.

Bell “may be a lame-duck Member of Congress, but he’s still a Member of Congress,” said Hefley. “I don’t see how you can do a rule like that. Nor do I think it’s appropriate.”

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has also expressed skepticism about the measure, making an argument similar to Hefley’s at Wednesday’s GOP Conference meeting, according to sources who were present.

Despite such roadblocks and Wednesday’s defeat, LaHood said he planned to push forward with his proposal.

“I’m going to try to offer it in the full [Appropriations] Committee,” LaHood said. “I may offer it on the floor too. … I want to raise the issue. We should think long and hard about this.”

LaHood has long been known as one of the more committed institutionalists in the House. He has been an organizer of bipartisan retreats and regularly laments what he perceives as the breakdown of civility and dignified debate in the chamber.

LaHood believes that Bell only filed his complaint because he had nothing left to lose. LaHood argued that Bell, as a lame duck, no longer has any stake in the well-being of the House as an institution.

But Bell spokesman Eric Burns strongly disputed the idea that Bell filed the complaint only because he lost his primary.

“Mr. Bell has quite a bit of respect for this institution,” Burns said, adding that Bell had been working on the complaint “since last year.”

Burns called LaHood’s proposal “most certainly misguided. A more appropriate way would be to prevent Members from filing frivolous or retaliatory complaints. This just smacks of the retaliation that we expected from DeLay and his allies.”

A DeLay aide said that the Majority Leader had nothing to do with LaHood’s proposal and had not encouraged it or any other retaliatory action. DeLay and LaHood are generally not seen as close allies within the Conference.

Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.