(Yes it’s unethical, but that photo just cracks me up.)
The United States Office of Government Ethics, which has the responsibility of “preventing conflicts of interest in the executive branch,” has among its guidelines ,
“Executive branch employees may not use their Government positions to suggest that the agency or any part of the executive branch endorses an organization (including a nonprofit organization), product, service, or person.”
The provision is clear, and I think obviously, necessary. Yet after anti-Trump zealots announced a boycott of Goya, the largest Hispanic-owned company in the U.S., after the company’s CEO Robert Unanue praised President Donald Trump in a Rose Garden event last week, the First Family went to extraordinary—and unethical—lengths to support the “buycott” that conservative groups launched in response.
First, White House adviser Ivanka Trump posted a photo of herself holding a can of Goya black beans this week, captioning it, “If it’s Goya, it has to be good” along with the translation, “Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno.”
See, Congressman, it works this way: if you were a Democrat, CREW would ignore your junket to London, and so would Mediaite. Fox News, however, would be all over your ass…
Did Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Tx)*, one of the prominent conservatives in the Republican-led Congress, misuse over $6,000 in campaign funds on a speaking trip to London? Maybe; it sounds like one of those typical gray election law controversies, and one of the lesser ones, except that Gohmert is on a lot of partisan hit lists. If he did misuse the funds, I’d want to see him fined, or whatever the violation warrants, and chastened too.
That’s not my concern right now, though. What interests me is that the alleged misuse of funds was flagged by Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and in reporting it, Mediaite said, in a story headlined, Ethics Watchdog Accuses Gohmert of Misusing Campaign Funds:
“An ethics watchdog group has filed a complaint against Rep. Louie Gohmert, accusing the Texas Republican of misusing campaign funds to foot the bill for a trip to England that included a 5-star hotel and a $200-plus taxi ride.The complaint, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), was addressed to the staff director and chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics and demands an investigation into whether Gohmert violated House rules by using campaign money for a trip that seemingly had nothing to do with his campaign.”
CREW, as I have repeatedly pointed out for years, is no “ethics watchdog.” Continue reading
2014 Conflicts of Interest of the Year
- Conflicted Elected Official: Philadelphia State Senator LeAnna Washington. This is always an entertaining category. Washington was convicted of using her tax-payer financed staff to organize a yearly campaign fundraiser around her birthday party. When one staffer complained that this was illegal, she reportedly replied, according to his grand jury testimony:
“I am the fucking senator, I do what the fuck I want, and ain’t nobody going to change me. I have been doing it like this for 17 years. So stop trying to change me.”
- Conflicted Journalist: CNN sent Jay Carney, fresh off his assignment as President Obama’s official spokesman, defender and spinmeister, to cover his ex-boss’s speech.
- Conflicted “Non-partisan” Watchdog: CREW. The Center For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and its chief, Melanie Sloan, finally came clean (after falsely claiming non-profit status as a non-partisan organization for years) by making David Brock, head of the openly partisan, foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Republican media watchdog Media Matters its Chairman of the Board, essentially merging the two groups.
- Appearance of Impropriety Award: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La), Republican Whip. It is not certain yet whether Scalise knowingly spoke to a group of white supremacists in 20o2, inadvertently spoke to the group, or just spoke to another group meeting in the same venue before the David Duke-affiliated group of racists started comparing sheets. It isn’t even clear that Scalise knows, but everyone should agree that it looks awful no matter how you categorize it, making the fiasco a classic appearance of impropriety situation. If the Republicans were smart, they would dump him.
Unethical Attire of the Year
Unethical Political Candidate of the Year
Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, whose campaign materials were largely plagiarized from the materials other candidates.
Ethically Clueless Voters of the Year
New York’s 11th Congressional District, which contains Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. These alert and ethical citizens sent back to Washington thuggish and crooked Rep. Michael Grimm (R), then facing a 20-count indictment by federal authorities for fraud, federal tax evasion, and perjury, having earlier distinguished himself by threatening to kill a reporter and being recorded doing so.
Unethical Advertising of the Year
Public Service Announcement Division:
TV Program Division:
The Discovery Channel’s campaign for “Eaten Alive!” which did not, in fact, feature anyone being “eaten alive,” or at all.
Private Sector Product Division:
Halos. Or perhaps this is the Child Abuse Division:
Political Campaign Division:
Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for Texas Governor, offered an ad attacking her wheelchair- bound opponent that 1) appealed to bias against the disabled 2) misrepresented the duties of a state attorney general 3) misrepresented the facts of the cases the ad referred to and 4) deceived the public regarding the ethical duties of lawyers, which Davis, a lawyer, presumably understands. Continue reading
Yes, David Brock really does wear his hair like that, and yes, I admit to being biased against anyone who does.
There is a real need for a fair, non-partisan, non-ideological ethics watchdog organization in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, what we are stuck with is the Center For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, headed by Melanie Sloan, and it is none of these things. The only clue on the group’s website, however, is the fact that Republicans are somehow found to be engaging in unethical conduct at a rate of about three times that of Democrats, and the Democrats CREW does criticize are so blatantly unethical that an old, blind and deaf watch dog would be disgusted by the stench. The mainstream news media, and which on the whole is about as unbiased as CREW is, still cites the Center as a “non partisan” source, all the better to attack Republicans with a semblance, though a deceptive one, of objectivity. CREW has operated, and quite dishonestly, as a nonprofit registered under a section of the Tax Code — 501(c)3, which prohibited partisan activity.
To be clear: CREW has done some excellent work flagging unethical conduct by Republicans officials. It is the lying about being objective that makes it an unethical organization. I wrote about CREW’s facade here
, and here
, and also noted
when it briefly dropped is pose when Sloan briefly joined that famously objective operative and lobbyist Lanny Davis’s firm—this is the same Lanny Davis who became a familiar fixture on TV spinning his friend and client Bill Clinton’s conduct during the Monica scandal—shortly after CREW blatantly pushed the interests of Davis’s clients on its website.
And yet, it once was even worse...
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington have a neat little feature on their website, an interactive survey entitled, “Are You More Ethical Than A Member of Congress?” It is well done, pointed, educational, and, if you hadn’t already figured out that the ethics on Capital Hill (and the character of the elected officials displaying them is beyond redemption, really depressing.
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that if you aren’t more ethical than a member of Congress, you are probably either in jail, or should be.
You can take the survey here.
There is a new website called “CREW Exposed,” which is pretty brief and to the point: it highlights statistics showing the degree to which Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government ethics watchdog that does not identify any partisan or ideological allegiances in its materials, concentrates its criticism, investigations, formal complaints and ethical exposes on Republicans and conservatives rather than Democrats and liberals at a ratio of about 5 to 1.
The fact that David Vitter is still stinking up the Senate means that it makes sense to let Anthony Weiner stick around and stink up the House. Yes, that's really the best the Democrats can come up with.
“It’s hard to see what the Ethics Committee would hang its hat on here to say that this conduct would violate the ethics rules. Others have said maybe it’s the lying. What! So no politician has ever lied to us before? That’s the kind of thing we see all the time. So he did behave discreditably (!!) but I don’t think it’s enough for a full-fledged ethics censure. David Vitter is still there.”
—-Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, making excuses for Rep. Anthony Weiner on Lawrence O’Donnell’s MSNBC liberal love-in show.
As“Ethics Bob” writes, “If you’re a Democrat and you want an ethics pass, go see Melanie Sloan.” Bob muses on what kind of behavior Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington “would consider irresponsible or unethical.”
It sure wouldn’t be Sloan’s own conduct, though she infamously used CREW to promote the client of a lobbying firm that she later jumped CREW to join (also conduct that is seen in D.C. “all the time,’ though not usually by heads of so-called ethics watchdog groups).* The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics does some good work, but it has always leaned heavily toward criticizing Republicans. Sloan’s statement to O’Donnell, however, is a new low, a disgrace for anyone who purports to take ethics seriously. Continue reading
In November, Ethics Alarms noted that Melanie Sloan, the head of the ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was involved in exactly the kind of Washington insider conflict of interest that the group typically slams politicians for engaging in:
“Melanie Sloan, long the leader and public face of CREW, announced that she is joining the new firm of lobbyist Lanny Davis, a long-time Democratic ally and famous for being Bill Clinton’s most ubiquitous apologist during the Monica Lewinsky scandal…Over the summer, CREW aligned itself with the for-profit schools industry. “Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (“HELP”), asking the committee to consider the financial motives of critics of the for-profit education industry,” a July CREW press release began. Later, Sloan again attacked the motives of for-profit school critics in a CREW blog post that linked to an op-ed piece Davis had written defending the for-profit industry. That industry then became a client of Davis’s lobbying firm.
“Got that? Sloan and CREW pushed the interests of Davis’s clients, then Sloan went to work for Davis, where she will, in part, be enriched by the very people whom she assisted in the name of ethics—by attacking the financial motives of for-profit school opponents! This is precisely the kind of D.C. two-step that CREW mercilessly exposes when elected officials do it, and now here is the very same CREW leader who once condemned such corrupt practices, doing it herself.”
Now, for reasons yet undisclosed. Sloan will not be leaving CREW after all.
Does that make everything all right, obliterating the conflict of interest exposed by her decision to take the lobbying job for a firm representing the same interests that CREW had defended? Is the stain of that apparent conflict now erased? Continue reading
CREW—Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington—is one of the most active and fairest of political watchdog groups. It has a definite liberal bias, for approximately twice as many Republicans as Democrats manage to attract CREW critiques, but that’s all right: plenty of elected officials from both parties have had their shady dealings exposed by the group, which is notable for its lack of sympathy for Washington’s traditional myths and excuses to allow guilt-free corruption.
An ethics watchdog, however, can never engage in the same conduct it criticizes in others. The reason for this is as much practical as ethical. A group that made a strong case that certain behavior shouldn’t be tolerated by the public in its elected champions doesn’t diminish the validity of its arguments by violating its own principles, but it does symbolically consent to accepting the same standard of review for its own actions that it demanded for its targets. This is what Will Shakespeare called being hoisted by your own petard—blowing yourself up with a bomb of your own construction.
As Shakespeare also noted, the previous quarry of the one who is thus hoisted just love to see this happen. It doesn’t really make what they did any less wrong or the ethics watchdog any less right to have condemned it, but when the critic gets caught doing something similar, it can make the conduct seem less wrong. This also will often guarantee that future criticism by the watchdog will be greeted with more suspicion than respect.
Salon has a posted a well-researched account of how CREW hoisted itself recently, and the prospects for the organization maintaining its previous level of respect and credibility are not good. Continue reading