Sunday, January 08, 2006

Democrats want sweeping House ethics investigation

Democrats want sweeping House ethics investigation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats seized on a mushrooming scandal involving a disgraced lobbyist on Saturday to call for sweeping ethics probes in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat, said lobbyists had multiplied by the thousands in recent years to the point where there were now 63 of them for every lawmaker. She said they were using their campaign donations to influence policy and even write laws.

Slaughter called on the House ethics committee to investigate corruption cases involving lawmakers with links to Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who pleaded guilty this week in a U.S. corruption probe.

"The House ethics committee, after a year of inaction, must get to work immediately to investigate pending ethics and corruption cases in the House, including those involving members with ties to Jack Abramoff," she said in the Democrats' weekly radio address.

"This is a necessary first step to restore a high ethical standard to the Congress," Slaughter said.

There was no immediate comment from a spokesman for the ethics committee, chaired by Rep. Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican.

But Republicans have sought to cast the Abramoff case as a bipartisan scandal, noting that some Democrats also received donations from Abramoff's clients and associates.

Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges and admitted that he gave golf trips, sports tickets and other gifts to lawmakers in return for special treatment.

The case has deepened the woes of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican whom Abramoff describes as a close friend. It has spurred a debate in the Republican Party over whether DeLay should return to his leadership post even if cleared of money-laundering charges in a separate case in Texas.

Democrats hope to turn the Abramoff scandal into a major election-year issue that could help them win back control of the House in the November elections.