In the wake of Rep. Randy Cunningham’s tearful confession to taking at least $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for lucrative military contracts, the NY Times editorial board takes the House Ethics Committee to task for its failure to… well… do anything.
It was a symbiosis between an ethically challenged lawmaker, who resigned on Monday, and easy-money boosters that might still be under way had San Diego newspapers not discovered a suspicious home sale by the congressman that concealed a payoff.
It was federal prosecutors – and certainly not any Congressional ethics monitors – who followed the rent-a-lawmaker trail. As Congress mulls over the larger lessons of the Duke’s demise, it should begin with the House’s ethics process, which has been shamefully locked into immobility for the past year while scandals have arisen as predictably as the new moon. The Republican majority has already seen its leader, Tom DeLay, indicted. The influence-peddling schemes attributed to the lobbyist Jack Abramoff are said to be unraveling, with prosecutors reported to be focusing on the dealings of at least a half-dozen lawmakers in both houses.
Where is Congress’s resolve to show the public that it can police itself? Something far better than passive denial was writ large in the first sentence of the Contract With America – the campaign tract that helped Republicans take power a decade ago – with its promise “to restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives.”
No doubt Delay elevated Rep. Doc Hastings (WA-4) to Chair the House Ethics Committee exactly for his well-earned reputation of doing nothing in Congress… and he hasn’t disappointed the Republican leadership. Under his control the Committee has sat in gridlock as scandal has erupted around them.
Common sense would dictate that it would be a waste of resources for Democrats to challenge Hastings in his bright red, Eastern WA district… but a profound aversion to political corruption is one issue that unites both Democrats and Republican voters alike, if not their respective party leaders. Hastings deserves to pay a price at home for his political toadyism in the other Washington, and we need to find a way to extract it.
2006 is already shaping up to be a disastrous year for the GOP. It’s possible we could be looking at the makings of a 1994-like shift, and if the Dems manage to field a credible challenger, Hastings could be vulnerable.