We in the Mahoning Valley have heard this defense before: Everybody (in Congress) does it.
We didn't buy it when supporters of U.S. Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, tried to excuse his taking kickbacks from congressional staffers. And we don't buy it now when supporters of the House Majority leader, Tom DeLay, R-Texas, use it to excuse DeLay's laxity in following House ethics rules and his propensity for using his position to enrich himself and those around him.
We find it reprehensible that DeLay-controlled political committees have managed to funnel more than $500,000 to DeLay's wife and daughter over a four-year period. That's more than Traficant managed to steal during his entire congressional career.
Yet 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." Really?
So it would be wrong for an elected representative of the people to take money directly from a lobbyist and put it in his pocket, but it is OK if he funnels money to his wife and daughter at a rate that would make them millionaires in a decade or so?
One of DeLay's supporters, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., dismissed any suggestion that this was wrong with sarcastic derision. "Then of course you have the horrible charge that Tom DeLay's family took some pay running his campaigns," Rohrabacher told the Associated Press in Washington. "The only people I know in Congress who don't do that are millionaires. My wife runs my campaign, Elton Gallegly's wife runs his campaign, I mean right off hand I know 12 members of Congress who are like that, and Democrats too."
So apparently the refined defense is: Everybody (in Congress) does it except the millionaires.
How pathetic that men (and women) elected to $150,000 jobs (plus great fringe benefits and generous expense accounts) think that's not enough. They think it is all right to find ways of converting the money donated to their political campaigns into salaries for spouses and other relatives.
They feed not at one trough, but at two. Any pretense that a lobbyist's contributions don't buy the politician's support collapses when the money is being funneled through a loophole into the politician's back pocket.
Speaking of loopholes, DeLay's supporters like to refer to the "politically inspired" investigation that's being pursued against him in Texas. Well, yes, it's politically inspired. Here's why, as reported in the Los Angeles Times: In 2002, DeLay wanted to redraw the Texas congressional map to guarantee GOP gains in the U.S. House, but first he needed Republicans to take control of the Texas Legislature. No control, no gerrymandering.
He needed money
Winning those elections was going to take a lot of money, the kind of money that can only be raised from corporate donors. But Texas law prohibits corporations from donating money to candidates. So DeLay's group, Texans for a Republican Majority, raised $190,000 in corporate donations and sent the money to a national Republican campaign group. The national group then donated the $190,000 to individual GOP candidates for the Texas Statehouse.
Most of us would call that money laundering and see it as wrong. DeLay says it was just smart use of a loophole.
Then he has the gall to characterize himself as the victim of an overzealous, political prosecutor. His new slogan, that the "liberal media and liberal Democrats" are out to get him, sounds like a tape of Hillary Clinton's "right-wing conspiracy" played backwards.
The irony of that is apparently lost on DeLay., which should come as no surprise.
It would be an unfortunate surprise if principled conservative politicians did not recognize that they are being dragged down by a two-bit hustler who went into politics because he couldn't make it in the highly competitive exterminating business back in Texas. He is poisoning the GOP well. If the Blunts and Rohrabachers are too blinded by loyalty to their leader to see it, others better before it's too late.