CREW vs. Issa: Biased Accuser, Guilty Accused

Unethical for Rep. Issa to make it, and unethical that CREW didn’t

The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington does almost half a great job in its stated role as a government ethics watchdog. The supposedly non-partisan group is obviously partisan, since it goes after unethical Republican officials with frequency and relish while targeting unethical Democrats with infrequency and reluctance. CREW’s complaints, however, are almost always well-supported and legitimate. Why almost half a great job? CREW can’t be as effective in its efforts to expose unethical Republican conduct as it needs to be because its obvious bias makes the organization’s motives and judgment less trustworthy and more vulnerable to attack.

We have a perfect example in the news. “The Hill” reports that CREW….

“…has asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) violated rules by producing a video that attacks President Obama. The video, titled “Obama State Dinners: Spend Like He Says, Not Like He Does,” compares Obama’s denouncement of a lavish $840,000 General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas to two expensive State Department dinners that hosted leaders from India and Mexico and included a performance by the singer Beyoncé. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) alleges that Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, misused government resources for political purposes in making the video, which the group describes as “nothing more than a negative political advertisement against President Obama. The attack ad offers no information about any action whatsoever by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,” CREW wrote in its letter to OCE. “In fact, the only purpose of the ad — particularly given its release just days before a hotly contested presidential election — is to attempt to elicit outrage against the president for holding state dinner at a time when Americans are facing fiscal difficulties.” The video was made by the committee and posted on the committee’s YouTube channel.”

Good job, CREW. Its complaint is obviously right on target: Rep. Issa used his committee’s funds to make what was really a partisan campaign video. Here’s Issa’s retort, through his spokesman:

“CREW is funded by anonymous liberal donors seeking to further a partisan political agenda against meaningful oversight of this administration,” said Watkins in a statement. “Independent reviews of the organization have found that its complaints lack credibility. This frivolous complaint, like others CREW has made at the behest of their far-left benefactors against Chairman Issa, has no merit.”

He’s right; CREW is hardly an objective observer, and as a constant gadfly who likes to bite Democrats, Issa would figure to be on a liberal group’s hit list.  Nevertheless, Issa is guilty as charged, and attacking the accuser as a first response provides a strong hint that the Congressman knows it. How much better it would be if The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington established unimpeachable credibility as a truly non-partisan ethics watchdog, by being as vigilant when Democrats abuse their position and power—like, just as one random example pulled out of the air, when a Democratic President spends more money on lavish state dinners than any previous White House squire at a time of record deficits and falling household income.


Facts: The Hill

Graphic: Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

8 thoughts on “CREW vs. Issa: Biased Accuser, Guilty Accused

    • It would make sense. Organizations never do that, though, or almost never. And it’s hard, because conservatives gravitate to rightish locales. Being the house liberal in a conservative organization, or the house conservative in a liberal one is stressful and not full of job security. I have been both.

        • Obviously, my situation was relative as well. In my case, the groups were the US Chamber of Commerce (right) and the Association of Trial Lawyers (left). Neither is quite as extreme or monolithic as the media would have us believe, however—especially the Chamber..

  1. How do you distinguish between CREW being biased, and CREW reporting on Republican corruption more often because Republicans are more often corrupt? it seems to me that either case is a possible alternative.

    As I understand it, CREW issues reports for actual rulebreaking. If the Obama are actually spending a lot more than inflation increases on total state dinners, that’s a problem (I can’t tell if there really is an increase, because GWB signed an executive order keeping his costs secret until 2014), but as far as I can tell that wouldn’t break any rules. (There’s a good reason to keep cost of state dinners secret, by the way – it’s so the white house doesn’t have to worry about insulting India if India finds out that its dinner cost less than Mexico’s).

    By the way, if there was an organization which took great care to be non-partisan, Republicans would just accuse it of having a liberal bias, and FOX news and partisans like you would uncritically accept that judgement – see all the right-wing attacks on the CBO, the TPC, and NASA, some of which (iirc) you’ve echoed in discussions here.

    Ironically, I have no idea if CREW is as left-wing as you claim, or if that’s your own partisan bias speaking. Is there an objective, non-partisan evaluation of CREW you could link to?

    • Really? Because Republicans and Democrats come from the same political class, tradition and culture, and because there is no evidence that one party is more corrupt than the other. CREW routinely picks low-hanging fruit among crooked Democrats, and pushed the envelope in judging Republicans—it’s a classic double standard. Combine Judicial Watch, which has the same bias in reverse, with CREW and you get some idea what a true non-partisan ethics watchdog would look like. To believe your theory would require the assumption that there is something about one side of the political spectrum that attracts the unethical more than the other side. I think that position is proof of bias all by itself. For example, and just one, CREW is obviously avoiding naming members of the Congressional Black Caucus to its “most corrupt” list. The CBC is an ethics cesspool, and has a disproportionate number of members under investigation for serious violations. The evidence that Nancy Pelosi is corrupt is more convincing than many of the Reps of either party that CREW has attacked.

      Then, of course, there is this.

      • Because Republicans and Democrats come from the same political class, tradition and culture, and because there is no evidence that one party is more corrupt than the other.

        I certainly would believe that Democrats are just as corrupt or even more corrupt (Democrats are more often elected from urban areas, maybe urban politics leads to more corruption opportunities) as Republicans, given good evidence. I also think it’s possible that Republicans are more corrupt (maybe getting more money from big oil, big finance, etc., as Republicans do on average, leads to more corruption opportunities).

        I didn’t claim to know either way for sure (because I don’t). You’re the one claiming sure knowledge, not me.

        You assumption that you can know for sure that neither party is more corrupt, without citing evidence, doesn’t seem logical to me.

        CREW routinely picks low-hanging fruit among crooked Democrats, and pushed the envelope in judging Republicans—it’s a classic double standard

        This is, of course, a perfect description of how “Ethics Alarms” operates to favor Republicans and trash Democrats in its criticisms. You also tend to use the very few times you criticized Romney as an opportunity to Trash Obama or another major Democrat at length, whereas the reverse wasn’t true.

        • Your last statement is 100% untrue, Barry, and if I didn’t regard it as your responsibility to prove yourself wrong, I would show you. I keep score, you know. There is only one President, and he’s in charge—whomeever is President is going to get the lion’s share of attention. Obama’s campaign was more negative, dishonest and uncivil than Romney’s and few objective observers dispute that. Even so. I just did a rough count: Democrats got named in 12 Ethics Dunces/Unethical quotes; Republicans in just 10. But this was because serial offenders like Biden and Debbie W-S were more exposed—in 2011, with the GOP debates, Michele Bachmann accounted for about 7 flags all by herself, and Newt may have had just as many: the Republicans “won” 2011 hand down. The 2012 count doesn’t take into consideration when I flagged Republican critics for cheap shots, or my clear statement–“Start the countdown. Every day that passes without Fehrnstrom resigning—or better yet, being fired— is an additional reason not to trust Mitt Romney…in addition, that is, to the fact that he’d hire a cynical, incompetent jerk like this in the first place.” here. That was hardly “low hanging fruit”—and conservative media unanimously gave Romney a pass on this. (And Fehrstrom was never fired.)

          This is not a political blog, as I must say here, oh, 50 times a month. I assume that you know that. It covers legal ethics, judicial ethics, political ethics, government ethics, arts ethics, sports ethics, cultural ethics, advertising ethics, leadership ethics, academic ethics and more. Even with an average of better than 3 posts a day, I cannot and don’t pretend to cover every possible issue. I survey all sources, right, left and center. If someone I like crosses a line, I am more likely, not less, to lean in favor of criticizing him or her. If someone I dislike does something admirable, I will lean over backwards to make that a topic.

          There is no double standard, in short—and I am accused of exactly the opposite double standard by conservatives. I make some borderline calls to point out ethical content that may be missed—this is not “pushing the envelope” regarding Democrats, and it is evenly applied across the parties. The single biggest barrage of criticism I got here was criticizing conservative bloggers for the “Harry Reid is a pederast” meme—and I think Reid is contemptible.

          Frankly, your original question smacks of desperate defense of a reliably liberal ally. CREW’s bias is hardly a secret, and it is agenda driven, as much as Media Matters or Newsbusters or Breitbart. I have no partisan agenda whatsoever. The mission of Ethics Alarms is to promote the discussion of ethics, use of ethical analysis and awareness of the ethical content in daily life. Every time I have ever put together a most-unethical list Senators or Congress members, it has been roughly equally divided—there are so many, it isn’t hard. CREW couldn’t even bring itself to list Rangel, for heaven’s sake; or Moran—these aren’t in doubt. Their 2012 list of most unethical members of Congress had twice as many Republicans as Democrats, while leaving off obvious Democrat candidates for the honor. CREW doesn’t even try to be balanced. I know that I do, very hard. And I usually succeed.

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