WASHINGTON - A Texas Democrat who saw his political career halted by the maneuverings of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and other Republicans filed multiple complaints with the House ethics committee Tuesday, accusing DeLay of "serious criminal acts."
DeLay, R-Texas, said the charges levied by Rep. Chris Bell had no substance and were the product of a disgruntled lawmaker who "is very bitter about his losing the primary and he is using the ethics committee to express his bitterness."
Bell, at a news conference, said he had been preparing his complaints long before his March defeat in the Democratic primary, a result mainly of redistricting brought about by DeLay and his GOP allies in the Texas Legislature.
Bell's term will end when Congress completes its current session.
"Nothing about this complaint is going to bring back my seat," Bell said. "The only thing I have to gain," he said, "is the wrath of Tom DeLay."
Bell made three complaints to the ethics committee:
-That DeLay illegally solicited and accepted political contributions from the Kansas-based Westar Energy Corporation in return for legislative favors. Westar executives, lobbying for a provision in a major energy bill, in 2002 contributed $58,200 to various campaigns and political action committees, including $25,000 to DeLay's PAC, Texans for a Republican Majority.
-That the same political action committee in September, 2002, sent $190,000 in corporate funds to the Republican National Committee "in an apparent money-laundering scheme" intended to provide funds for GOP candidates to the Texas state legislature.
-That in 2003, when the Texas legislature was battling over the GOP plan to carry out redistricting that could gain Republicans five or so more seats in the House, DeLay abused his office to urge federal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, to track down Democrats who had left Austin to prevent Republicans from getting a quorum to vote on the plan.
DeLay said that the charges were "all based on press clippings and it's nothing new." DeLay, who has weathered past charges by Democrats of campaign violations, said he keeps attorneys on retainer and "we have made sure that everything that I do is legal and meets the rules of the House and the ethics committee's mandates and rules."
The Democratic district attorney in Travis County, home of the state capital, Austin, has impaneled a grand jury to look into the financial dealings of DeLay's political action committee, but DeLay stressed that he has never been questioned or named in that investigation.
Bell's charges are the first filed against a House leader since the ethics committee took up a case against former Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997 that contributed to his decision to leave office.
Lawmakers questioned whether Bell's action could lead to retaliatory complaints against Democrats. DeLay said he would not encourage that, but "if someone files a legitimate complaint, not a frivolous one like this one, obviously I can't discourage" it.
Bell said his staff notified Democratic leaders of his plans to file the complaints, but did not seek their counsel.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said his staff had neither encouraged nor discouraged Bell. He said that from what he had seen in news reports, "I think that substantive charges have been raised."
The ethics committee, or Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, has five legislative days or 14 calendar days to determine whether the complaint meets criteria for being considered. If it is accepted for consideration, the chairman and top Democrat on the committee have 45 calendar days to make a recommendation to the committee, establish an investigative subcommittee or ask for more time.
It can recommend a variety of actions if complaints are found justified, including censure and expulsion.
Bell, a freshman, was one of the first victims of the redistricting finally approved by the Texas legislature. He was moved to a new district that was heavily Democrat but far more racially diverse, with whites comprising only 21 percent. Bell, who is white, was defeated in the Democratic primary by former Houston NAACP president Al Green.