Senator Vitter Thinks Bribery and Extortion Are Ethical

"...and U.S. Senators..."

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was initially restricted to a lower salary than other Cabinet members because he was a U.S. Senator when the salaries were raised. The Constitution bars members of the House and Senate from appointment to any U.S. office where compensation was increased during the lawmaker’s term. (Did you know that? I didn’t.)  President George W. Bush in 2008 signed legislation rolling back the Interior Secretary’s salary so that President Obama Salazar could appoint Salazar.

Once Salazar joined the Obama Cabinet, however, he was eligible for a raise. But Senator David Vitter (R-La.) saw a chance for some leverage. He wrote Salazar to inform him that he would place a hold on the bill to raise his salary until Salazar agreed to approve six new deep-water oil drilling permits every month. In effect, Vitter threatened to withhold over $19,000 in salary that Salazar had every right to receive in order to force him to take the actions Vitter favored. How does Vitter’s conduct differ from offering a bribe? No at all, as far as I can see. How does it differ from extortion? Not much. Vitter was trying to force a Cabinet officer make decisions motivated by his own financial interest rather than what he believed was in the best interest of the nation. He was creating an unethical conflict of interest. Continue reading

Ensign Scandal Revelations: Sen. Coburn’s Betrayal

Oh dear, Sen. Coburn...didn't anyone tell you that corruption is contagious?

The bipartisan Senate committee, investigating the sexual harassment/ extortion/ lobbying scandals that led Sen John Ensign (R-Nev.) to resign his seat issued its report this week. It found “substantial credible evidence that provides substantial cause to conclude that Senator Ensign violated Senate Rules and federal civil and criminal laws, and engaged in improper conduct reflecting upon the Senate, thus betraying the public trust and bringing discredit to the Senate.” The committee referred the matter to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission.

The report also found, however, that another Republican Senator, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was hip-deep in the  mess, serving as an intermediary between Ensign and his top aide, Doug Hampton, who was in the process of extorting  Ensign  for having an affair with Hampton’s wife. Sen. Coburn also played a central role in arranging for Ensign’s parents to cough up the hush money to satisfy Hampton’s demands.  Whether Coburn knew about the more serious offenses that Ensign seems to have committed, such as lying to investigators and using his influence to create business for Hampton’s lobbying firm as part of the pay-off for Ensign sleeping with Hampton’s wife, is unknown, but never mind: helping with the cover-up is bad enough. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Sen. John Ensign

While I stand behind my firm belief that I have not violated any law, rule, or standard of conduct of the Senate, and I have fought to prove this publicly, I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings.”

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), announcing his resignation from the U.S. Senate about two years late. Ensign’s continuing service in the upper chamber has been a continuing embarrassment thanks to a 2009 sex scandal and sordid cover-up attempt. Interestingly, Ensign maintains that such conduct doesn’t violate any “standard of conduct” for him and his colleagues.

Sadly, perhaps he’s right.

“I didn’t violate any laws or rules” has been Ensign’s mantra since it came to light that he: Continue reading