Anatomy of an Ethics Leak

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Friday, October 30, 2009 at 11:35 am

The news that “dozens” of House lawmakers are under scrutiny by ethics investigators — reported last night by The Washington Post — will likely stir a small storm in Washington, particularly on an otherwise quiet Friday when Congress is out of town.

Yet few details contained in the leaked document are new (which makes some sense because it was prepared in July). There’s the investigation, for example, of lawmakers tied to PMA Group, the now-defunct lobbying shop that funneled millions of dollars of campaign contributions to members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which in turn directed more than $200 million to PMA clients. There’s the ongoing look at the personal finances of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the Ways and Means Chairman whose failure to include hundreds of thousands of dollars on financial disclosure forms has led to calls for his removal atop the committee. And there’s the case of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the House Financial Services member who organized a meeting between Treasury officials and the head of a bank in which her husband was heavily invested.

Yet these cases are all at least six months old. The fact that the ethics panel hasn’t reached any conclusions seems to reveal what many already suspect: that a system of having Congress investigate Congress is, at best, a conflict of interest, and, at worst, a stage show run by folks with no real appetite to punish colleagues.

The Post is quick to point out that the ethics panel isn’t exactly aggressive when it comes to discipline.

Ethics committee investigations are not uncommon. Most result in private letters that either exonerate or reprimand a member. In some rare instances, the censure is more severe.

No one knows this better than Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the tireless watchdog group that keeps an eye on ethics cases in Congress. Reacting to the Post story, CREW shot out a statement this morning, effectively accusing the ethics panel of being a paper tiger.

Starting an investigation isn’t enough.  The real question is whether any of the members under investigation will ever be held accountable for their conduct.  The committee’s record on such matters is dismal.  You have only to look back at the Mark Foley investigation — where all of America knew there was wrongdoing yet the committee found none — to be skeptical of the House ethics process.  There’s not much reason to think anything has changed, but one can always hope.

For its part, the ethics panel shot out a statement that seems intended more to ease the concerns of lawmakers listed in the leaked document than it does to convince the public that investigators are serious about punishing congressional wrongdoing.

At any one time, the Committee has dozens of matters regarding Members, Officers, and employees before it, including both investigations and requests for advice regarding House rules, financial disclosure, and travel, among other issues. No inference to any misconduct can be made from the fact that a matter is simply before the Committee.

Replace “misconduct” with “looming punishment” and this statement would probably be closer to the truth.

Comments

12 Comments

Tweets that mention The Anatomy of an Ethics Leak « The Washington Independent -- Topsy.com
Pingback posted October 30, 2009 @ 11:54 am

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ursulas and WashIndependent, TMC Member Feed. TMC Member Feed said: Wash. Independent: Anatomy of an Ethics Leak: The news that “dozens” of House law.. http://bit.ly/24bWSL [...]


Those Tubes Leak Out The Darndest Things « Around The Sphere
Pingback posted October 30, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

[...] Mike Lillis at Washington Independent: Yet few details contained in the leaked document are new (which makes some sense because it was prepared in July). There’s the investigation, for example, of lawmakers tied to PMA Group, the now-defunct lobbying shop that funneled millions of dollars of campaign contributions to members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which in turn directed more than $200 million to PMA clients. There’s the ongoing look at the personal finances of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the Ways and Means Chairman whose failure to include hundreds of thousands of dollars on financial disclosure forms has led to calls for his removal atop the committee. And there’s the case of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the House Financial Services member who organized a meeting between Treasury officials and the head of a bank in which her husband was heavily invested. [...]


strangely_enough
Comment posted October 30, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

Nothing says ethically challenged like Link DeLay:

In a letter to [Tom] DeLay, the [ethics] committee stated that: “In view of the number of instances to date in which the committee has found it necessary to comment on conduct in which you have engaged, it is clearly necessary for you to temper your future actions to assure that you are in full compliance at all times with the applicable House rules and standards of conduct.”

Awesome. Even that flaccid response to DeLay's corrupt behavior generated this hissy fit:

Many Republicans had immediately voiced their displeasure with Rep. Hefley (R-Co) and the Ethics Committee after their admonishment DeLay in October 2004. When Congress reconvened in 2005, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) replaced Hefly as committee chairman, citing House Rules 10.(5)(a)(3)(C) and 10.(5)(a)(3)(D). In his place Hastert installed Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wa). Hastings was known to be a staunch ally of Hastert and the Republican leadership and had received money from DeLay's PAC. Hefly had anticipated the move, stating that he did not expect to retain the chairmanship given his role in the DeLay admonishment. He was quoted as saying that there was a “bad perception out there that there was a purge in the committee and that people were put in that would protect our side of the aisle better than I did.”

If only we all could police our own behavior so efficiently.


strangely_enough
Comment posted October 30, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

Nothing says ethically challenged like DeLay:

In a letter to [Tom] DeLay, the [ethics] committee stated that: “In view of the number of instances to date in which the committee has found it necessary to comment on conduct in which you have engaged, it is clearly necessary for you to temper your future actions to assure that you are in full compliance at all times with the applicable House rules and standards of conduct.”

Awesome. Even that flaccid response to DeLay's corrupt behavior generated this hissy fit:

Many Republicans had immediately voiced their displeasure with Rep. Hefley (R-Co) and the Ethics Committee after their admonishment DeLay in October 2004. When Congress reconvened in 2005, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) replaced Hefly as committee chairman, citing House Rules 10.(5)(a)(3)(C) and 10.(5)(a)(3)(D). In his place Hastert installed Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wa). Hastings was known to be a staunch ally of Hastert and the Republican leadership and had received money from DeLay's PAC. Hefly had anticipated the move, stating that he did not expect to retain the chairmanship given his role in the DeLay admonishment. He was quoted as saying that there was a “bad perception out there that there was a purge in the committee and that people were put in that would protect our side of the aisle better than I did.”

If only we all could police our own behavior so efficiently.


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The PMA Lobbying Scandal & Apathetik Amerika [bareb0n3 version] | Humanas Emeritus
Pingback posted December 4, 2010 @ 10:42 pm

[...] they’re conducting. Of course, it’s fairly well known that these “investigations” add up to little more than a slap on the wrist, “Ethics committee investigations are not uncommon. Most result in private letters that either [...]


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