IT'S TAKEN TOO long, but House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's shady ethics may finally be catching up to him. For the second time in less than a week, the previously somnolent House ethics committee has rebuked the Texas Republican. This time it admonished Mr. DeLay for holding a golf fundraiser for energy companies just as the House was to consider energy legislation and for drafting Federal Aviation Administration officials to look for fleeing Texas state legislators -- Democrats who were foiling Mr. DeLay's plan to redistrict the state and thereby cement his party's hold on the House. Last week, the committee rebuked Mr. DeLay for offering to endorse the son of retiring Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) in exchange for Mr. Smith's vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill.
But, as the TV hucksters would say, wait, that's not all. Mr. DeLay was chastised by the committee in 1999 for his heavy-handed and inappropriate intervention in a trade group's hiring of a retiring Democratic congressman; Mr. DeLay, with his usual delicacy, had threatened legislative retaliation if the group dared to give the job to a member of the opposition.
Then there's the indictment of three DeLay political aides on money-laundering charges involving efforts to steer corporate contributions into Texas state races; the ethics committee rightly postponed consideration of that matter. Meanwhile federal prosecutors and congressional committees are looking into the activities of two DeLay allies -- his former communications director, Michael Scanlon, and a lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, who parlayed their close ties to the majority leader into millions in fees from Indian tribes.
The ethics committee recognized a pattern in its extraordinary letter to the majority leader. "In view of the number of instances to date in which the Committee has found it necessary to comment on conduct in which you have engaged, it is clearly necessary for you to temper your future actions to assure that you are in full compliance at all times with the applicable House Rules and standards of conduct," it said.
In response to being admonished last week, Mr. DeLay said, "During my entire career I have worked to advance my party's legislative agenda." But as the committee noted, that's not an acceptable excuse; rather, it's evidence -- if more were needed -- that Mr. DeLay simply doesn't get it: "The fact that a violation results from the overaggressive pursuit of one's legislative agenda simply does not constitute a mitigating factor." Mr. DeLay's response to the latest rebuke -- blaming his troubles on Democrats' "relentless personal attacks" -- wasn't any more reassuring.
Some will grouse that the committee should have gone further and named an outside counsel to investigate Mr. DeLay, or at the very least opened a formal inquiry to determine whether his misconduct warrants more severe punishment. We think it's impressive that the five Republicans on the committee, led by Rep. Joel Hefley (Colo.), were willing to speak the truth in the face of Mr. DeLay's extraordinary power in the House. The letter to Mr. Delay from Mr. Hefley and his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.), noted that it is "particularly important" that House leaders, because of their prominent position, adhere "scrupulously" to the requirement that they conduct themselves in a way that reflects creditably on the House. Does anyone looking at Mr. DeLay's record think he's lived up to this standard? And do Mr. DeLay's colleagues really want an ethical recidivist as their leader?