Paul Jacob

The committee went on to recommend no further investigation and suggested that the "public admonishment" of mailing their mealy-mouthed letter of rebuke would terrify the frail DeLay and be punishment enough.

DeLay was also accused of using his powerful position as House Majority Leader to shake down contributions to various political entities under his influence. A Kansas-based energy company named Westar sought more favorable federal rules and regulations. During consideration of a major energy bill, Tom DeLay held a fundraising event where he raked in a good deal of dough from Westar executives.

But here, again, the committee has no standard with which to hold DeLay to account. Virtually every member of Congress raises money from those with interests before the Congress, especially since Congress has an interest in everything from the snacks I feed my kids to the amount of water in my toilet.

The letter of rebuke tells DeLay that "other aspects of the fundraiser that would have been unobjectionable otherwise had the effect, in these specific circumstances, of furthering the appearance that the contributors were receiving impermissible special treatment or access."

But how can one know how something will "appear" to others? To most of us with eyes, ears and brain cells, the appearance of corruption in Congress is pervasive.

Lastly, Mr. DeLay is accused of using federal government resources to further his own political ends. During a redistricting squabble, a number of Texas Democratic state legislators fled their state by airplane to deny Republicans a quorum for passing legislation to redistrict the state's voters. Tom DeLay contacted the helpful people at the Federal Aviation Administration, asking them to find the plane. He wanted to make sure that his redistricting plan would put five seats held by Democratic incumbents in jeopardy.

DeLay is in the wrong here. The FAA is not his personal flight tracker. If he didn't break the law or House rules, the law and the rules need to be updated. But again, he is not held to account. Nor are others.

In the letter that serves as the tough penalty meted out to DeLay, the House ethics tribunal acknowledges it functions outside any sensible rules of justice, writing, "As you are aware, it does not suffice for any House Member to assert that his or her actions violated no law, or violated no specific prohibition or requirement of the House Rules. The House Code of Official Conduct broadly requires that every House Member, officer and employee 'conduct himself at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.'"

But, as I've had repeated opportunity in my Common Sense e-letter to demonstrate, the Congress has no "credibility" left to reflect badly upon. Sure, this is an argument for term limits. But it is also a terribly sad recognition of how degenerated the flagship institution of American democracy has become. And the enormous job ahead of us to turn it around.

Of course, Democratic House Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi now champions reform, calling for more investigations and for DeLay to step down. Yet, that only makes one wonder why this committee hasn't investigated her illegal funneling of $100,000 to various Democratic incumbents in the last election, for which the FEC fined her.

DeLay's behavior, performed either more or less skillfully, is the norm, it is the everyday business of the career politicians who have hijacked our Congress. Power at all costs.

Let this column be "public admonishment" for Mr. DeLay and the entire Congress. But while we still can, let us go to work at the state and local level, where voters can still make a difference, to restore citizen control of government.

Then, over time, maybe more power can be wrested from a Congress that today is so hopelessly lost.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.