For Your Edification: These Members Of The 2019 House Of Representatives Are Facing Ethics Probes

Remember that the House Ethics Committee maintains a very narrow definition of “ethics.” Almost all serious ethics allegations and investigations in Congress involve financial misconduct, employment shenanigans, actual criminal conduct or blatant conflicts of interest.  The prohibition against sexual relations with staff was relatively recently added, and even more recently taken seriously, thanks to the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck. If the House really was concerned with promoting ethics rather than compliance, it would bring more investigations based on #1 in the House Code of Conduct:

1. A Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.

It is fair to say, I think, that this standard has been openly abandoned by both parties.

Here are the current open investigations:

 Representative Alcee L. Hastings, (D-Florida),

Alcee is my favorite unethical House member, and has been for years.  He was impeached and removed from the federal bench in 1989 after the Senate found him guilty of eight impeachment articles, including one charging that he had conspired to receive a $150,000 bribe. Yes, his constituents have shown themselves unworthy of Democracy. Now he is being accused of  violating House rules by having a personal relationship with a member of his staff, and get this: it is with the lawyer who defended him in his impeachment trial. Hastings, who is 83, admits the relationship with Patricia Williams, whom he has had on his staff for years. They even bought a $700,000 house togethet bought a house near Boynton Beach.  Hastings still owes legal fees to her for the work on his impeachment defense, raising another ethics issue regarding inappropriate gifts or “forbearance.” is seeking the payment of debts.

As we know by now,  Representative Katie Hill of California, a first-term Democrat, had a sexual relationship with a member of her congressional staff and had to resign as a result—well, that and the public release of kinky nude photographs inconsistent with House Code of Conduct #1.

Representative Michael F. Q. San Nicolas (D-Guam) Continue reading

The House Ethics Committee Sends A Message: “Keep Your Corruption Within The Loopholes, And You’re Still ‘Ethical'”

"We just want to be friends."

“We just want to be friends.”

Let us stipulate that when a body’s ethics committee shows itself to be hopelessly confused about ethics, the chances that the body it is supposed to enlighten will be anything other than habitually, shamelessly and irreparable unethical are somewhere between Frosty’s chances of surviving in Hell, and the likelihood of me doing an infomercial for Wen Hair.

Remember the “Friends of Angelo” scandal? This was the so-called  “VIP program” that former Countrywide founder and CEO Angelo Mozilo used, not to be unkind, to bribe lawmakers into assisting Countrywide’s predatory mortgage loan practices, or at least to look the other way. In June 2008  it was revealed that key policy makers, including former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd  (D-Conn.), and current Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) received special terms on mortgages from Countrywide.

In 2009,the House Oversight Committee began investigating the program and learned that similar sweetheart loans were extended to almost a dozen lawmakers, executive branch officials, and other employees of Congress, the White House, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other government agencies. Countrywide also allowed some VIP program participants “free floats,” which meant that if interest rates fell during the time when loans were being processed, the company allowed applicants to take the lower rate at closing, something it does not typically do.

Let’s be clear: these are bribes. No matter whether they fall within or without specific laws or regulations, they are bribes. This is a large corporation providing special benefits to legislators and others in the government that it did not make available to the general public, in order to make “friends” with them. Why would a financial company like Countrywide want policy-makers indebted to it, to “like” it? Use your imagination. This is called creating a conflict of interest and warping independent judgment. We should expect our officials and elected representatives to recognize such transparent corruption, and avoid it. But they didn’t, and don’t.

One reason they don’t is that voters refuse to hold them accountable. Another is this:

From the LA Times:

“The House Ethics Committee has found no rules violations by  lawmakers and staffers who used a VIP loan program from Countrywide Financial Corp. saying the allegations of special treatment fell outside the panel’s jurisdiction. The committee’s leaders said its investigation largely led to the same conclusions as the Senate Ethics Committee, which determined in 2009 that there was “no substantial credible evidence” that Sen. Kent Conrad (D-S.D.) and former Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) had broken rules by accepting loans through the special program…”

“The House Ethics Committee statement said that people in the VIP program appeared to be offered ‘quicker, more efficient loan processing and some discounts.’ But the committee said there was evidence showing those discounts “were not the best deals that were available at Countrywide or in the marketplace at large.” Because participation in the program “did not necessarily mean that borrowers received the best financial deal available either from Countrywide or other lenders,” it was not a violation of House rules to participate, according to the Ethics Committee.” Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

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

Campaign Contributions During Key Votes: Call It Bribery

The quote from Sen. Max Baucus’s spokeperson instantly becomes a leading candidate for “Lie of the Year.”

“Money has no influence on how Senator Baucus (D-Montana) makes his decisions,” Kate Downen told the Washington Post. “The only factor that determines Senator Baucus’s votes is whether a policy is right for Montana and right for our country.” Is there any American so naive as to still believe this, not just about Baucus but about any member of Congress? The Post reports that despite Senate and House rules forbidding it, campaign contributions routinely spike when important bills are about to be voted upon. The sources of the sudden gifts to the lawmakers? Individuals, organizations and corporations who will benefit from the law’s passage or defeat. Continue reading

CREW’s Top Ten Scandals of 2010

The government ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has announced its list of the top ten ethics scandals of 2010. You can read about them here.

For the most part I like the list, though notable for its absence is the Charley Rangel matter,  the ommission of which reinforces my conviction that CREW is marred by a pro-Democratic bias.  Strangely, the list also fails to include the unfortunate incident where CREW’s former executive director, Melanie Sloan, jumped ship to take a lucrative job with a lobbying firm whose clients CREW had been vigorously supporting for months.

Go figure.

Rangel’s Corruption Continues, Whatever He Calls It

“In all fairness, I was not found guilty of corruption, I did not go to bed with kids, I did not hurt the House speaker, I did not start a revolution against the United States of America, I did not steal any money, I did not take any bribes, and that is abundantly clear.”

—-Rep. Charles Rangel, less than a week following his historic censure by the House of Representatives for repeated violations of House ethics rules

Thus did Charlie Rangel embrace the Clinton Standard after proven unethical conduct, which can be loosely translated as “it’s not what I did that matters, it’s what I didn’t do that should have counted.” In Clinton’s case, the defense was that his lies and obstruction of justice were in the context of what he and his defenders dubbed “personal” misconduct, not the official “high crimes” required by the Constitution, and that his real offense was being a Democrat. Rangel’s adaptation: sure he broke rules, but that was not what the House has called “corrupt” in the past, and thus he can hold his head up high. Continue reading

Be Thankful Tom DeLay Is Going To Jail

“As for DeLay, his time will probably come. He has ethical blind spots galore, and is only getting bolder with time. The more the Republicans move to protect “The Hammer,” the more damaging DeLay’s inevitable fall will be to the party. As the old newspaper columnists used to say, “You read it here first!”

I posted that almost exactly six years ago. In the years I have been doing ethics commentary, no figure inspired (or perhaps depressed) me more than Tom DeLay when he was G.O.P. Majority leader in the House. Now he has finally been convicted of the legal violations that his contempt for ethics virtually guaranteed.  From “Too Dumb to be Ethics Dunces,” posted in 2005: Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Rep. Greg Walden

“Our focus on the transition is looking at other things that are much more important. And that is how the House operates, how to open it up. We’re not focused in on the ethics side of things at all. We’re not working on that issue at all.”

— Rep. Greg Walden (R-Or.), who is heading up the transition to a Republican-led Congress, to ABC News, when asked if the new majority is going to change the process of House ethics oversight.

This statement is the epitome of res ipsa loquitur (“The thing speaks for itself”), don’t you think?

Anyone who expects the new G.O.P Congress to improve on the wretched level of corruption of Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic majority  House, or the even more extensive corruption of the last Republican House under Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay, raise your hand…and slap yourself in the face with it.

At least Pelosi had the sense to say that ethics were important.