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Politics and Economy:
Congressman Tom DeLay
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House Ethics Rules

On November 17, 2004 House Republicans approved a change to party rules which some saw as a strategy designed solely to allow Majority leader Tom DeLay to retain his leadership post even if he were indicted by a Texas grand jury on state political corruption charges. The change was put into effect in January 2005 by the members of the new 109th Congress. Under the traditional rule, if the Ethics Committee's five Republicans and five Democrats deadlocked on whether to begin an investigation, the investigation would automatically go forward. The new rule required a majority vote, which meant at least one Republican would have had to cross party lines for an ethics investigation to proceed. Democrats contended that this cross-over was unlikely and would effectively shield DeLay from investigation.

The rules change itself, and a spate of news stories suggesting additional ethics violations by DeLay, led the Republicans to backtrack. On April 26, 2005, House Republican leaders rescinded the controversial rule change. Among the ethical violations in question is who pays for members' travel — since the controversy over some of DeLay's trips dozens of others have filed belated travel reports with the Ethics Committee.

You can read the entire rule book of the House of Representatives online. Below are some of the Committee's own highlights. Do these rules make sense to you? Tell us on the NOW message boards.

  • The House Gift Rule prohibits acceptance of any gift unless permitted by one of the exceptions stated in the rule. Gifts allowed by the exceptions include:

    • Any gift (other than cash or cash equivalent) valued at less than $50; however, the cumulative value of gifts that can be accepted from any one source in a calendar year is less than $100
    • Gifts having a value of less than $10 do not count against the annual limit
    • "Buydowns" are not allowed -- i.e., a gift valued at $55 cannot be accepted merely by paying $6,

  • A form disclosing the identity of the sponsor, the purpose and itinerary of the trip, and the expenses paid must be filed with the Clerk of the House within 30 days after return.

  • No use of congressional office resources (including equipment, supplies or files) for campaign purposes.

  • No preferential treatment for the Member's supporters, contributors or friends in casework matters -- treat all constituents fairly, and on the merits of their claims.

  • A Member must abstain from voting on a matter on the House floor only if the Member has a direct, distinct personal or pecuniary interest in the matter.
  • The Honoraria Ban applies to all members, officers and employees. An honorarium is a payment for any speech, appearance, or article.
Also, use NOW's resources to see who's contributing to your local and national representatives. The Medill News Service at Northwestern University offers a detailed analysis of congressional travel by every member of Congress on its Power Trips Web site.

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