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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Friday, October 01, 2004

DeLay's superfine brush with ethics

Dem hate figure Tom DeLay is, ethics-wise, a choirboy compared to the Great Society's (and Vietnam's) Lyndon Johnson.

(For instance, I don't believe [1] that DeLay has enriched himself by millions of dollars through strong-arming Federal regulators [2].)

But you don't appoint a Texan to high office and expect him to play any kind of pool other than dirty. And, in that respect, DeLay does not disappoint.

A slap on the wrist, then, from the House Ethics Committee (New York Times today) for bullying outgoing Rep Chris Smith over the Medicare bill.

And, in an impeccably balanced ruling, Smith himself was admonished for
"speculation and exaggeration" and for "making public statements that risked impugning the reputation of the House." The report said that contrary to his claims, he was never offered $100,000 or any other sum for his son's campaign.

Two words are required to understand this fudge: ethics truce. As discussed here at some length (last on June 30), every since the really ugly partisan strife (which downed Newt Gingrich [3], amongst others) of the 1990s, both parties in the House have agreed to adopt a Three Wise Monkeys policy on ethics.

In other words, the ranks of Dem members are filled with enough cheats and scoundrels as to make it unwise for Saint Nancy Pelosi to cast the first stone.

Pelosi's views on ethics violations are perfect Realpolitik - apparently, in a presser in March 2004, she
refused to shoulder responsibility herself for an ethics process that many critics believe is broken.

And said:
I don't have the time, nor do I think it is appropriate that the resources of the leader's office be set aside to document ethics violations...I really do not think it is my job to investigate these things to a point, then file a complaint on them.

Not so much Saint Nancy as Pontius Pilate.

Apparently, when the rule barring persons from outside the House from filing complaints against its members was introduced in 1997, Pelosi spoke up on the floor against it:
The language the gentleman from Pennsylvania is offering, if passed by this body, would be tantamount to preventing outsiders from offering amendments unless the Member of Congress went even further.

But, by March, she'd been completely co-opted:
When we put together the package, it was to strengthen the role of the ethics committee and to emphasize the responsibility of the ethics committee so that we could have a fair hearing on what was a true ethics violation, not that we could play tit for tat as to who could make up something.

If the long-shot comes off, and there's a Speaker Pelosi elected in January, will the ethics truce continue?

Caveat elector.

  1. Though I do not rule out the possibility - I merely lack that little thing called evidence.

  2. As Johnson did with KTBC Austin (July 27).

  3. A WaPo piece of January 22 1997, would you believe?


According to the Post on February 26 2003 [1], Pelosi had ethical troubles of her own:
The Federal Election Commission is investigating charges that Pelosi last year operated two leadership political action committees at the same time, a potential violation of election laws.

In the event, it seems that Pelosi's PACs [2] were fined a total of $28,000 by the FEC for violations of electoral law.

I can only attribute the fact that I haven't heard anything about this ruling from the VRWC to - the ethics truce that Pelosi once opposed but now goes along with.

  1. Discussing the case of Rep Michael Oxley (R-OH) that I mentioned on June 15.

  2. PAC to the Future and Team Majority: that first name alone surely worthy of cruel and unusual punishment.


Fuller particulars of the DeLay/Smith case from Timothy Noah in Slate - the latest of a dozen pieces - linked on the page - dealing with the subject.

Noah suggests that DeLay's offer to back Smith's son in his Congressional race would found a charge under 18 USC 201. Without getting into the merits - for a start, one has to distinguish between the separate crimes of bribery and illegal gratuity - the idea does have the feeling of a law school seminar topic.

If Kerry won, but the GOP retained the House, a DeLay prosecution would signal the launch of all-out war on that chamber - this time, the GOP could blame shutting down the government on a Dem president with some hope of making it stick.

If Kerry won, and the Dems took the House, such a prosecution would - with reason - be spun as rank triumphalism.

No doubt, I'm missing something...

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