Imagine, if you will, that I post an enthusiastic testimonial to the superior depilatory virtues of Braun electric razors as compared to Norelco Triple-headers. Then suppose that you learn that, prior to the publication of my pro-Braun rave, Braun had sent Ethics Alarms a generous contribution “to support its good works in support of ethical consciousness.” Not only that, but also imagine that this contribution was brokered by an organization paid by Braun because it guaranteed that it could get good reviews of for its clients’ products on ethics websites. If I subsequently claimed that my razor review rave and the felicitous gift from Braun were absolutely unrelated, that I recommended Braun’s razor purely because of the product’s wonderful qualities was influenced not one whit by the payola and the implicit promise of more, would you believe me?
If you would, you would be…well, I think the technical term would be “an idiot.” Yet that is the gist of the most recent outrage from the House of Representatives ethics committee, which issued a report clearing the late Rep. John Murtha as well as Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Norm Dicks (D-WA), Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), Todd Tahrt (R-Kan.) and Rep. Bill Young (R-FL) of acquiring lucrative earmarks for government contractors after the same contractors had sent them huge “contributions.”
The Committee “…found no evidence that Members or their official staff considered campaign contributions as a factor when requesting earmarks. The Standards Committee further found no evidence that Members or their official staff were directly or indirectly engaged in seeking contributions in return for earmarks. Rather, the evidence showed that earmarks were evaluated based upon criteria independent of campaign contributions, such as the number of jobs created in the Member’s district or the value to the taxpayer or the U.S. military, and without Members or their official staff linking, or being aware that companies may have intended to link, contributions with earmarks.”
It found “no evidence,” mind you, although (just to take one example) the Washington Post reported that the Office of Congressional Ethics “had found evidence that Rep. Visclosky and his staff arranged fundraisers specifically for companies seeking earmarks — within days and weeks of when those companies had to submit their requests to the lawmaker and when Visclosky himself faced a deadline for endorsing their requests with his Appropriations panel.” The OCE report said that “there is probable cause to believe that Representative Visclosky solicited or accepted contributions or other items of value in exchange for or because of an official act, or solicited or accepted contributions or other items of value in a manner which gave the appearance that the contributions were linked to an official act.” The OCE, the Post reported, also found e-mails in which company lobbyists discussed that they and other companies seeking earmarks had been asked to donate $20,000 to Visclosky, though it is unclear who asked. In some e-mails, the lobbyists and corporate officials stress that the donations are linked to earmark success.
But this isn’t evidence, not according to the Ethics Committee. Nor is it evidence that the late Congressman Murtha, whose trading of earmarks for the equivalent of bribes was barely concealed over the years, was at the center of extensive shady lobbyist dealings that have already spawned indictments. The Committee also didn’t regard as evidence the breach of contract lawsuit filed by the Badenoch company against the PMA Group, the defense lobbying group founded by longtime Murtha ally Paul Magliocchetti, alleging that PMA didn’t deliver a $3 million defense earmark as promised. One would think that such a lawsuit strongly suggests that a company retaining PMA assumed there was a quid pro quo arrangement in place, with the firm making certain that grateful elected officials delivered contracts in exchange for “gifts.” PMA closed shop after federal authorities raided it in November 2008; Magliocchetti is now under investigation by the Justice Department for arranging political contributions to Murtha and the other House members in violation of federal election laws.
Are the members of the House Ethics Committee idiots? No, they just think we are. So entrenched is the corrupt, budget-busting system of lobbyist bribes for earmarked government contracts that there is no hesitation in the House or Senate to protect it at the cost of all integrity, honesty, fairness or candor. Have no fear, bi-partisanship on the Hill is alive and well when it involves cooperating to protect each others’ slimiest influence peddlers, and none was slimier than John Murtha.
There are a few other lessons to learn from the Committee’s embarrassing report on the “innocence” of the PMA Seven. The first is that the House Ethics Committee does not really deliver findings on whether members have been unethical, because it is usually clear to any objective observer that a member being investigated by the Committee has been engaged in egregious wrongful conduct, whether technically in violation of House ethics rules or not. All the Committee does is decide whether the prevailing political winds dictate that the Representative involved should be held accountable for the wrongdoing.
The second lesson is that in this regard, the two parties are indistinguishable. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s pledge to “make this the most honest, ethical and open Congress in history,” which seemed reasonable at the time (2006) in light of the spectacular corruption of the GOP regime preceding her, will go down as one of the more cynical promises in recent history.
The final lesson is this: any and all assertions by House Democrats or Republicans that they are passing legislation in the best interests of the nation are by definition unbelievable, until Congress stops regarding bribery as standard operating procedure, and stops lying to the public about it.