The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The Ethics Truce - they are all the same, apparently

All politics is competitive. But, for a few years now, the paradigm of the political bear-pit has been the US House, with its most bloodthirsty bear Tom DeLay, successively Majority Whip and, for this 108th Congress, Majority Leader.

On January 18, I wrote at some length on DeLay's forceful methods of business management. Of bipartisanship, there was nary a glimmer.

However, it seems that House Democrats and Republicans have been as turtle-doves on at least one point: that no member should accuse any other member of ethics violations.

This is scarcely news to aficionados; but, to kibitzers and - perhaps - the average voter, not so much.

Speaker Dennis Hastert (March 11 presser) explains how this came about:
...I don't ever say that we have an ethics truce. But what I saw happen when I became Speaker, we had a huge amounts of ethics charges which I thought were bogus ethics charges; they were political ethics charges just laid on people for the purpose of tying people up politically. It cost folks thousands and thousands, tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect themselves and came to no avail. And that became the practice of the day. I had a discussion with Mr. Gephardt at that time and said, you know, this isn't a very good way to run a House of Representatives. This is not a very good practice. If people are doing wrong things, then they ought to go before the Ethics Committee, but to use the Ethics Committee as a political football I think is ill-intended and shouldn't happen. And so for that period of time -- for a period of time I think there was a reduction of political ethics charges.

Further explanation from Chairman of the Standards Committee Rep Joe Hefley and Ranking Member Rep Allan Molahan in a circular letter of March 11. A cross-head The so-called "ethics truce" talks mostly about unfounded complaints and the limitations on the Standards Committee's jurisdiction.

I'm not going to go through the history of the truce. But one might note, as an example, the case of Rep Michael Oxley (R-OH) (WaPo February 26 2003): Oxley, as Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, supposedly
suggested that a congressional probe of mutual fund companies might ease if the industry dismissed one of its most prominent Democratic lobbyists or hired a Republican.

This an apparent manifestation of the K Street Project to replace Dems with GOP men in lobbying firms (piece of May 20).

Shortly after, the Dems backed down on Oxley, under threat of retaliatory ethics complaints from the GOP. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer quoted in The Hill (March 5 2003) as saying
Neither side should use the ethics process as a political tool to attack, put at risk, or embarrass members. I believe it is appropriate for both sides to show restraint in using the ethics process as a political bludgeon.

And Dem pin-up Nancy Pelosi was shuffling, saying that
Hoyer did not keep her apprised of his discussions with Republicans.

Now, that's what I call Leadership!

At any rate, from what I can judge, House Dem indignation has been building in the last few months. A Roll Call piece of February 2 2004 [1] highlighted the Rep Nick Smith (R-MI) bribery allegation over his vote on the Medicare bill, and the groundswell has grown [2].

Today, the Post says that Rep Chris Bell (D-TX) is to file a complaint against Tom DeLay, charging him with
soliciting campaign contributions in return for legislative favors; laundering illegal campaign contributions through a Texas political action committee; and improperly involving a federal agency in a Texas partisan matter.

Drew Pearson in his 1932 Washington Merry-Go-Round refers to the Lower Chamber as the Monkey-House. Heads down: the bananas are about to fly!

  1. Reprinted on Rep Jan Schakowsky's site - her husband indicted for cheque (or check, if you must!) fraud - funny old world...

  2. WaPo pieces on March 17, March 19, Hill pieces of March 3 and March 24 on Tom DeLay's creative use of his charity, Celebrations for Children - aka Donations for Republicans, a TomPaine piece (March 19), and a Houston Chronicle piece (May 22),

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