Allies of Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas have finally gotten around to the "everybody does it" justification of the ethical lapses of their guy, the No. 2 Republican in the House. It's the excuse used after more specific defenses, such as "he couldn't have known where the money was coming from," begin to sound hollow.
In response to one recent discovery, the $500,000-plus paid by DeLay-controlled political committees to DeLay's wife and daughter, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri (the No. 3 Republican in the House) said, "The things that Tom has been criticized about in one way or another every member of Congress could be criticized about.... I think he's taking arrows for all of us."
Let the arrows fly where they belong, then. If all members are shoveling that kind of special interest money to their kin, the voters would like to know the specifics.
This is about lobbyists lining the DeLay family's pockets. The political committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, or ARM, is funded largely by lobbying groups eager to influence DeLay or to rent his power on behalf of their interests. The committee pays wife Christine DeLay's consulting fees, or salary, or whatever they call it. Daughter Dani DeLay Ferro runs her own obscure Texas political consulting company. It received $222,000 over four years from Texans for a Republican Majority, the state version of DeLay's ARM and funded in the same manner. Lobbyists seeking access to DeLay are ultimately Ferro's paymasters.
DeLay, the House majority leader, couldn't figure out that the nearly $60,000 cost of his visit to Russia in 1997 seems to have come, via a conservative nonprofit group, from a shadowy Bahamas-based company with ties to Russian gas and oil interests. Or that more recent trips to Britain and South Korea had questionable funding. Are all members of Congress allowed to be equally careless in their vetting of overseas trips?
Apparently so. DeLay told CNN on Wednesday that "no member can be responsible for going into the bowels of researching ... this organization, how it gets its money or how it's funded."
There's also the disclosure Thursday that 11 people who once worked for DeLay have raked in at least $45 million in lobbying fees from various corporations since leaving DeLay's employ. A spokesman responded that DeLay's "legislative activities are based on strongly held beliefs and the corresponding merits of the legislation." If that's how Congress operated, all these lobbyists would be wasting their clients' millions.
Over the last several years, The Times has exposed family/lobbyist ties among many lawmakers, notably Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), former Sen. John B. Breaux (D-La.), and Reps. Nick J. Rahall II (D-W.Va.), and Curt Weldon (R-Pa.). Instead of improving its self-regulation, Congress has weakened its ethics rules to help DeLay, who is also facing possible indictment for political activities in Texas.
"Everybody does it." When children say that, their mothers ask: "Would you jump off a cliff if everyone did it?" Maybe Republican defenders of DeLay are thinking, "yes."