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May 31, 2005, 7:15 A.M.

And, speaking of ethical scandals. . . The New Hampshire State Legislature's ethics committee has recommended that former House Speaker and Bartlett Representative Gene Chandler be expelled from the Legislature for using his elected office to collect personal gifts from State House lobbyists and other donors, some of whom do business with the state. According to the Concord Monitor, the recommendation comes in a report by the committee which was released yesterday. The report comes eight months after Chandler was first accused of breaking state law and ethics guidelines through his practice of throwing annual fundraisers to help cover his personal expenses. He has since pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for failing to file annual lists of contributors with the secretary of state. He paid a $2,000 fine and must perform 100 hours of community service. Chandler chose not to run for another term as House speaker last December because of the allegations, but he remains a state representative.

The question of whether or not Chandler can remain as a representative will now be decided by the full House. The House can accept or reject the committee’s recommendation or it can impose a lesser punishment such as censure or reprimand. The last time a New Hampshire legislator was removed from office was in 1913.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Ethics Committee Chairman Ned Gordon said Chandler's role as House Speaker warranted a strong punishment. Gordon was quoted in the Monitor as saying: "A person in a leadership position has some responsibility to make sure they set an example for other members of the Legislature," Gordon said. "To simply say, 'I was not aware of the law,' is not an excuse." Chandler had maintained that he was not aware of the reporting requirement. The wrongdoing stems from Chandler's failure to report the names of donors to his annual "Old Fashioned Corn Roasts” to the Secretary of State as the reporting law requires. Chandler held the annual events to raise money for personal use. According to the Monitor, the corn roasts carried $10-per-person entry fees but bigger donations were common, with some lobbyists and businesses giving Chandler as much as $1,000. Chandler had said he didn't know that both state law and the Legislature's ethics rules required that he report details of who was giving him money. He also said he did not know that ethics guidelines prohibit lawmakers from taking gifts worth more than $250 from people with business before the Legislature. The total amount raised through the corn roasts was about $64,000, which certainly ain’t chicken feed.

Chandler attempted, unsuccessfully, to convince the ethics committee that his criminal conviction, which carried a $2,000.00 fine and 100 hours of community service, was a sufficient sentence. The committee thankfully rejected this argument citing the authority of the legislature to set a higher standard for its members. The committee report says “To have the leader of the institution claim ignorance of (the ethics guidelines) creates even more cynicism and distrust of the process," it goes on to say “The violations create an aura of suspicion as to other public officials, an erroneous and unfortunate assumption, given the hard work done by all other members of the Legislature.

If nothing else, the receipt of tens of thousands of dollars in cash gifts from those having a great stake in his legislative action should have raised a red flag sufficient to create an ethical concern. To the contrary, in his testimony, Rep. Chandler made clear that he thought it was legal, and that made it permissible. The Ethics Guidelines establish a higher standard, and the members of the public expect and deserve more." The committee decision to expel Chandler was unanimous.

Although it is unclear how the House will vote on the recommendation, Chandler. It is unconscionable for someone who has served in the State House for over 20 years and who has held leadership roles, including Speaker of the House, to remain in the face of this type of behavior. Chandler knew what he was doing was wrong and he does not deserve to take up a seat in the legislature no matter how popular he is back home. Anything short of expulsion under these circumstances will suggest that this type of unethical and illegal behavior is acceptable. They should be paid more no doubt, but Gene knew the deal when he signed on.

Apparently the current House Speaker, Doug Scamman, does not agree. Scammon reportedly told the Monitor that he would bring the recommendation before the full House at Wednesday's session, but he would not support expelling Chandler. I hope that rest of the house will agree with the committee, and that Chandler will get sent packing because he has obviously gotten too comfortable and he has forgotten who he works for, just like Tom Delay.

May 31, 2005, 7:00 A.M.

The Exterminator: Despite numerous pending civil and criminal actions surrounding efforts by Texas Republicans to win control of the state legislature, the architect of the plan, Tom DeLay, remains one of the most powerful politicians alive. DeLay survives amid investigations into his serious ethics violations and possible criminal indictments related to the Texas redistricting scandal. The noose seems to be drawing tighter, however and a recent decision regarding DeLay’s political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority or TRMPAC, may just be the unraveling of the DeLay power structure many are hoping for.

A Texas judge ruled Thursday that the treasurer of TRMPAC, which was formed by DeLay, the House Majority leader, had broken campaign finance laws by funneling corporate campaign donations into local campaigns aimed at unseating Democrats. The judgment awarded nearly $200,000 to five Democrats who were ousted by GOP candidates backed DeLay’s organization.

TRMPAC is credited with playing a pivotal role in winning a Republican Majority in the Texas legislature for the first time since reconstruction. DeLay’s critics believe, and have been outspoken in maintaining, that the group’s tactics were not only underhanded, but that they were illegal. This decision goes a long way in supporting those claims and stands as a was a symbolic victory for DeLay's critics, lending credence to accusations that his allies used illegal campaign finance tactics in statewide elections in their successful efforts to win a Republican majority in the state for the first time in 130 years. "This was an important first step," said Cris Feldman, an attorney for the Democratic plaintiffs. "It sheds light on the illegal acts of Texans for a Republican Majority."

In this case, Judge Joseph Hart, ruled that Bill Ceverha, treasurer of the PAC, had failed to report $532,333 in corporate donations that were spent on campaign activities rather than for administrative purposes. Under Texas law, as under federal law, corporate campaign donations are forbidden. Companies may help pay the administrative costs of certain political groups, but they cannot make contributions that help finance the campaigns themselves which is what Hart found that they actually did. He ruled that the corporate contributions "were not, in fact, 'to finance the administration' of TRMPAC and should have been reported," Ceverha will have to pay $196,660 to several Democrats unseated as a result of the committees efforts as a result of the ruling. An attorney for Ceverha called the decision wrong and promised to appeal but this decision is only on a portion of the case and larger aspects of the claims against the PAC are still pending awaiting the outcome of several other civil and criminal cases which could eventually implicate DeLay further. The criminal case, being pursued by Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney, has led to the indictment of three close DeLay associates. If in fact these allegations are proven, and linked to DeLay as many believe they will be, the Speaker will begin to look more like an organized crime figure that a US representative.

DeLay was not named in the TRMPAC case, and he has maintained he did not play a role in how the group's money was raised and spent. Given his involvement in the Texas elections, his role as the architect of the Republican takeover and his apparent involvement, with the aid of some homeland security assets, in trying to locate Democrats who fled the State to avoid a quorum on the redistricting vote, it’s hard to believe that he didn’t know how the money raised to support his efforts was being spent. DeLay is, however, currently under investigation for numerous ethical violations, including funneling over $500,000.00 in campaign funds to family members, accepting trips from corporate donors and later killing legislation which they opposed as well as attempting to change House rules so that he could remain as speaker of the House even if he were indicted for his activities in Texas.

All of this comes to light now, long after the effects of DeLays activities have been felt, and long after anything can be done about it. Like New Hampshire’s own phone jamming scandal, the Texas redistricting scandal is a bell that can’t be unrung. All that can happen now is that DeLay and his cronies can be driven out of office and sent to jail where they belong. We can only hope that they are charged, tried and convicted by a truly independent judiciary and that somehow this type of criminal activity can be removed from the political landscape. It is, or should be, important to all of us how senators, congressmen and presidents get elected and how, in turn, the judges who are called upon to decide the fate of people like DeLay when they abuse the public trust are appointed.

Texas Tom is an exterminator by trade, and given his political activities I see more than a little irony in that. He recently renewed his exterminator’s license back home as required by Texas law. The licensing law seems to be one which DeLay plans to follow. I only hope that he will need that license real soon.

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