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Powerful U.S. Lawmaker Accused of Election Law Violation in Texas

I’m Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

On Wednesday, a grand jury in Texas brought a charge against the Republican leader of the United States House of Representatives.

Texas Representative Tom DeLay has temporarily surrendered his position as majority leader, as required by rules. But he keeps his seat in Congress. He is charged with a violation of Texas election law. It bans using money from businesses to support the election or defeat of political candidates.

The case involves a political action committee he helped set up in Texas. The charge says the group illegally passed money from companies to campaigns in the state through the Republican National Committee.

In two thousand two, the Texas group sent one hundred ninety thousand dollars to the committee in Washington. The charge says the national committee also got a list of seven Texas candidates to receive, in total, that same amount.

The charge says the money was part of an effort to help Republicans win control of the Texas House of Representatives. They did win in two thousand two, for the first time in one hundred thirty years.

Later, Texas lawmakers drew a new map of voting areas. As a result, the House of Representatives in Washington received five more Republicans from Texas.

Mister DeLay is accused of criminal conspiracy. He could face up to two years in prison if found guilty. A judge set a court appearance for October twenty-first. Two other men also face charges.

Mister DeLay says he is innocent. He says he had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of the Texas committee. He says Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle in Austin, the state capital, charged him for political reasons.

Mister Earle is a Democrat who notes that he has also brought charges against Democrats in the past.

Republicans in Congress have chosen Missouri Representative Roy Blunt to act as majority leader temporarily. But a Republican spokesman said Mister DeLay will remain what he called a "very powerful adviser" to the party leadership.

Tom DeLay has often been called the most powerful Republican in Congress. He is known on Capitol Hill as “The Hammer” for his ability to pass legislation and enforce policies.

All four hundred thirty-five members of the House are elected every two years. Republicans have a twenty-nine-seat majority. The next election is in November of two thousand six.

The House Ethics Committee criticized Mister DeLay three times last year for violations of House rules. Political experts say the situation now gives Democrats more ammunition to charge wrongdoing and poor leadership by Republicans.

Adding to the problems is a federal investigation of the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist. It involves the sale of his stock in a company started by his family. Senator Frist says he did nothing wrong.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. I’m Steve Ember.