Beyond Tom DeLay

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There is no end of verbiage about Tom DeLay in today’s editorial pages, but while most of these pieces are good at making zingers about the House Majority Leader, none are calling for major reforms that would guard against future Tom DeLays taking power. The Los Angeles Times comes closest, noting that:

Tom Delay has been so intellectually dishonest for so long that news that he may have been criminally dishonest hardly comes as a surprise. The question now is how much worse the political culture will become before it can get better…

But the real scandal in Washington, as someone once said, isn't what's illegal, it's what's legal. DeLay has practically made a career out of testing the boundaries on ethics — and going far beyond them politically.

However, the LA Times does not offer any specific prescriptions for change. The New York Times, meanwhile, chastises the Republican leadership for “[making] it obvious to everyone that Mr. DeLay would run the show from the wings,” despite the announcement he was leaving his post as House Majority Leader:

The imperious Texan is an increasing embarrassment to his party, turning its majority into an undisguised fountain of patronage and an ideological cudgel while skirting the bounds of campaign law…It's long been clear that the political damage to Mr. DeLay has been self-inflicted. His value as a leader was compromised well before his run-in with the prosecutor in Texas.

The Washington Post calls The Hammer an “ethical recidivist -- unabashed about using his legislative and political power to reward supporters and punish opponents, and brazen in how he links campaign contributions and political actions” but rather lamely concludes that “Whatever happens in the criminal case, perhaps this latest controversy will cause his colleagues to rethink whether he is, in fact, the person they really want as their leader.”

These papers are missing the boat. DeLay shouldn’t just resign from his leadership position, he should also resign from Congress. (Sign our petition here.) But even that isn’t enough. We need comprehensive campaign finance reform that changes the rules of the game so that qualified candidates can mount competitive campaigns against the Tom DeLays of the political world without resorting to taking special interest cash. We need to put voters back in charge, where they belong.