From today’s Washington Post:
The House ethics committee, the panel responsible for upholding the chamber’s ethics code, has been virtually moribund for the past year, handling only routine business despite a wave of federal investigations into close and potentially illegal relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists.
The committee’s last formal action of note was its recommendation to admonish former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) for the second and third times in 2004. Since then, the committee has been crippled.
Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) was ousted as the ethics chairman early this year by House GOP leaders. His successor, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), has been slow to take up the reins because of disputes between Republicans and Democrats over the panel’s rules. Hastings and Mollohan also feuded for months about the makeup of the professional staff.
It has been a year since Hastings took the reigns, and the House Ethics Committee still doesn’t have a chief of staff on the job, nor even begun the process of hiring investigators. During that time at least seven lawmakers have been indicted, pleaded guilty, or are under investigation for conspiracy, fraud, campaign finance violations, and other improper conduct. Last week Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif) resigned from Congress after pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion, and the other Washington is abuzz with rumors of lawmakers, spouses, and aides entangled in the growing scandals surrounding lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon.
Government watch dog groups from across the ideological spectrum are decrying the Committee’s failure to act, and the erosion in public trust that has resulted.
“There is no ethics enforcement in Congress today, and it’s inexcusable,” sad Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative monitor of government ethics.
“No matter what level of corruption the members of Congress engage in, the ethics committees do nothing,” agreed Melanie Sloan, executive director of the liberal-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It’s a national embarrassment.”
This is Hastings’ committee, and by failing to act he is complicit in the corruption he is responsible for investigating and punishing. The citizens of WA’s 4th Congressional District deserve to know the crucial role their congressman is playing in preserving our Capitol’s crooked money machine. The citizens of the 4th District deserve a better congressman.