I know all this firsthand. My own experiences with the ethics committee, while frustrating, to be sure, were generally positive. Despite the media's decision to give my name new prefixes -- "embattled," "ethically challenged" and the like -- the fact of the matter is that the House ethics committee exonerated me of any wrongdoing in every complaint the Democrats ever brought against me. Not once in my career was I ever found guilty of having violated House rules or any law. You see, I'm not just a commentator about the House ethics process; I was also a client.What, then, is the problem? My own cases shed some light on this. After losing his primary election -- a loss he blamed on me rather than his own poor service of his district -- a lame-duck Democrat congressman told a liberal interest group that he would sign any ethics complaint they could cook up against me. They did, he did, and all of a sudden my name was in the gutter. The House ethics committee looked into the evidence and, finding none to corroborate the outlandish charges, was duty-bound to clear me. The Democratic leadership, however, already had announced its strategy to personally attack leading conservatives in an effort to win back the House, so ethics committee Democrats demanded something they could use to attack me. Without any evidence to support an actual sanction against me, Democrats instead invented the idea of a public letter of admonition.
Letters of admonition basically say, "You didn't do anything wrong, but don't do it again." Throughout the history of the House, admonitions were delivered privately so that the member would not be subjected to unfounded, salacious media attacks. Until me. For the Democrats, the unfounded, salacious media attacks were the whole point, and certainly more important than the integrity of the House or my public image. The House ethics process is supposed to protect innocent members from frivolous accusations; by rejecting precedent and "admonishing" me for things they admitted I didn't do, the House ethics process failed in that responsibility. The same could happen to any member.
Tom DeLay is the former House Majority Leader, the second ranking leader in the United States House of Representatives, and co-author of No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight.