Thanksgiving Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/23/17: All About Turkeys, Metaphorically Speaking

It’s Thanksgiving Morning!

1 It’s also my wedding anniversary. I am very thankful , and proud, frankly, that I am one of the very few people among my pretty large and diverse community of friends, acquaintances and colleagues still married (after 37 years…yes, I married at 13) to the same person I pledged to make a life with “til death do us part.” It’s not easy, for anyone, and determination and commitment, forgiveness and contrition, are a large, crucial, indispensable part of it. A lot of the journey is based on ethics, in other words.

2. Surprise! More accusers of both Rep. John Conyers and Senator Franken surfaced yesterday. Conyers’ new alleged victim is Melanie Sloan, formerly the head of CREW, the left-wing D.C. ethics watchdog that somehow manages to see unethical conduct by Republicans about five times more often than it fingers Democrats. Sloan says she was not sexually harassed, but alleges that Conyers called him into his office to verbally abuse her while being dressed in his underwear. Uh, Melanie? If your boss is ever berating you in his underwear, that is per se sexual harassment. This is a hostile work environment; I don’t care if your superior is built like Batman…well, like his costume.

The predictable proliferation of accusers was why, in the hypothetical apology I authored for Alternate Universe Al, I included the part about mistreating other women. It was a sure thing; harassers harass, and if you are going to pretend that the first accuser was “just a mistake,” you might as well skip it and head for George Bailey’s bridge. In the sexual harassment training field, nothing is more certain than the fact that with the real harassers and predators, if there’s one victim, there are many. This is why the narrative about Anita Hill amounts to a Left-driven, media-driven smear of Clarence Thomas for the crime of being a black conservative.

An unanticipated horrible consequence of this leg of the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck, which also includes new allegations about the Democratic Party’s keynote speaker when it was accusing conservatives of a “war on women,” as well the revelation that the GOP President who selected Thomas emulates his favorite magician, “David Cop-a-Feel,” is that it very well might elect Roy Moore, who is worse than any of them. Meanwhile, most analysts think that both Franken and Conyers will have to resign. ( I would eagerly vote for a mad scientist-make hybrid of Conyers and Franken—Frankenconyers!—before I would even shake Roy Moore’s grubby hand…and really, who knows where it’s been?)

Republicans have been incredibly lucky with their choices of foes, luckier than they deserve. Continue reading

The Sixth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2014 (Part 3)

ellen-selfie

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

Offensive shirt

This.

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

Lawyer Division:

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

Shock: CREW Finally Comes Clean… It Wasn’t So Non-Partisan After All!

Yes, David Brock really does wear his hair like that, and yes, I admit being biased against anyone who does.

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.

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CREW and the Problem With Partisan “Non-Partisan Watchdog Groups”

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.

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

Ethics Quiz: Can You Undo A Past Confict of Interest or Appearance of Impropriety?

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 Gets Hoisted: For Ethics Watchdogs, Integrity’s a Bitch

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