Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Mutually Assured Corruption
You would think that the one thing you could count on would be that the Democrats and Republicans would be at each others' throats, always eager to point out wrongdoings in the other camp. While at times this makes it difficult to reach agreement on important issues, at least they might keep each other honest when it comes to enforcing ethics laws. Right?

Wrong. Today's Washington Post describes how the Democrats and Republicans in Congress have basically agreed not to investigate ethics charges against each other. Last week, the committee in charge of investigating House ethics violations said that many members may not be filing complaints because "of retaliatory complaints against members of their own party."

In other words, both sides have dirty hands, so they'd rather sweep their problems under the carpet.

Dick Armey, the former Majority Leader of the House, remembers when his party took over in 1994 in part due to ethics violations of the other party. "The Republican majority began with the whole reform movement, going after the House bank and all that," he said. "We were great reformers, we were going to have the ethical standards." Today, he said, "it's not a very pretty picture with the House."

Among the potential ethics violations that the House has not investigated are a report that a political committee run by Tom Delay has violated the law, newspaper accounts of Delay, Billy Tauzin, and Joe Barton offered legislative help in exchange for $56,000 in contributions from Westar Energy interests, and a report that the third ranking Republican slipped in provisions to a bill to aid a tobacco company that his son lobbies for.

It's important for our elected officials to behave with the highest ethical standards. But this example may show that strong ethics rules aren't enough to have a true democracy. Our bigger problem is that we have unethical people running for office in the first place, and our campaign finance system actually gives these bad apples a leg up on upstanding candidates who don't pander to big contributors. Until we fix our systems of elections to get the right people in office, we'll continue to find that the people in office are behaving badly.

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