Monday, July 02, 2007

Ethics Reform Bogged Down In Congress. In Other News, Sun To Rise In The East Tomorrow

trust. It was Poor democrats. Once they were the party that was going to put the trust back in Public Trust. They were going to be Mr. Smith in Washington all over again, only this time there would be a bunch of Mr. and a few Ms. Smiths. Well, never judge a republican until you've walked a mile in their shoes, especially if those shoes are a pair of Salvatore Ferragamos given to you by a "friend" from the oil industry.

Toughening ethics laws, once a priority of Democrats, has bogged down in Congress as party leaders find their campaign promises colliding with lawmakers' re-election concerns. "Well, truth be told, we were only interested in the Republicans' ethics," said one democratic congressional aide. "We never promised to clean up our own act."

Two months have passed since a task force was supposed to have recommended how an independent panel might avoid ethics complaints before they go to the House ethics committee. A key sticking point is opposition in both parties to letting outsiders file complaints against members of Congress. "Can you imagine what chaos it will be if we let common citizens watchdog us?" said one representative who asked not to be identified.

Currently, only House members can initiate an ethics probe. "And that's the way god intended it," the representative said. "We got so much dirt on each other it'll be a cold day in H E double hockey sticks before one representative rats on another."

Public watchdog groups call the restriction self-serving and unreasonable. "Well duh," said an aide to an ethics committee member. "You think we're stupid or something?"

Meanwhile, a Senate spat over rules governing senators' requests for special pork in their home states is blocking efforts to merge into one bill Senate and House measures to restrict lawmakers' dealings with lobbyists. "Yeah, we were hoping to block the bill with something a little more technical, but this is the best we could do, said one senator. "Say, shouldn't you guys be looking for missing white women or something? There's bound to be one somewhere."

"I find it distressing that they haven't dealt with these issues," Craig Holman of Public Citizen said, referring particularly to the House task force. "Oh wait a minute. This is Congress we're talking about. Never mind."

For years, self-described government-reform groups have denounced the House ethics committee, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, as listless and largely toothless. "You say that like it's a bad thing," said one committee member.

On January 31, Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed a bipartisan task force to recommend whether an independent panel of nonmembers should investigate ethics complaints and play a role in avoiding, rewriting, and eviscerating rules of conduct. That report was due May 1. "So the basic question is, should we investigate ourselves, or should we do it right," said an aide to Pelosi. "What do you think we're going to do?"

completed," said Task force members privately briefed colleagues on a plan in which the speaker and minority leader would each appoint three members to a panel that would look at complaints — from members or nonmembers — and recommend whether the House ethics committee should bury them. "This would be a totally independent panel of members, and with three republicans and three democrats. We're sure any investigation it undertook would be quickly and professionally done away with," said Pelosi's aide.

Watchdog groups called the plan weak, especially because the new panel would lack subpoena powers to compel testimony and demand documents. The panel "would have a free hand to recommend the dismissal of a complaint and would be greatly restricted in recommending anything else," lawmakers were told in a letter last week from groups including Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and the Campaign Legal Center.

Yeah. We worked hard on that," said one member of the house ethics committee. "Now that's government in action."

Some watchdog groups are balking at a second proposal floated by task force members. It would require any group that lodges an ethics complaint against a House member to reveal its donors.

Many lawmakers are insisting on such disclosures, saying the public should know as much as possible about people behind allegations that could hurt a politician's meal ticket. "See, the thing is, with these donor lists it will be a lot easier for us to change the subject from the fact that we're all a bunch of low life scum bags to the fact that someone from the other party once gave a contribution to the group charging us with being low life scum bags," said one member of the task group. "Hey, is that a white woman being kidnapped over there?"

Some Republicans particularly like the disclosure proposal because they believe groups such as Common Cause are heavily financed by Democrats and liberals. "If we had this law before, half the republican congressional delegation wouldn't be in or heading for prison right now," said one republican.

1 comment:

Dee said...

About the best headline I've EVER seen!

Choked on my food laughing so hard!