Monday, April 24, 2006

Congressman Mollohan (WV) Steps Down From Ethics Committee

As Chris Cillizza reports in "The Fix", his column for the Washington Post, Congressman Alan Mollohan stepped down from the House Ethics Committee on Friday. Pressure has built on the West Virginia Democrat since the Wall Street Journal reported that Mollohan had steered some $250 million to nonprofit groups he helped create.

At least some of the directors of the nonprofits used their extravagant salaries (paid for with your and my tax dollars) to make campaign contributions to Mr. Mollohan. This looks eerily similar to the scheme set up by Duke Cunningham and his bribers, in which the Duke steered federal contracts to companies which in turn contributed more than $100,000 to Cunningham's political committees, not to mention $2.4 million in outright bribes to Cunningham.

Mollohan also has a joint investment with at least one director of one of the nonprofits, which raises further questions about the propriety of Mollohan steering those groups federal funds.

Replacing Mollohan is Congressman Howard Berman, who represents a district in north Los Angeles (thanks to his brother Michael).

From a practical standpoint, Mollohan's departure doesn't amount to a hill of beans. The Ethics Committee has been paralyzed by a standoff between Republicans and Democrats for over a year. The parties have each refused to consider any ethics complaints, using the excuse that the other party is using the Ethics Committee for partisan maneuvering. And if that means that the ethics machinery grinds to a halt, well, so be it say the Dems and Reeps.

Because of the self-dealing by members of Congress and the inherent conflict in having Congress police itself, reform-minded folks have called for an independent congressional watchdog to look at ethics complaints. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of people in Congress have resisted the idea, and have thrown the notion of an independent watchdog onto the scrap heap of other reforms which were introduced in the wake of the Cunningham and Abramoff scandals, only to be watered down by the House and/or Senate.

In short, Congress will continue to leave the rest of us undefended against its own self-dealing, increasing the likelihood that the other violations will go undiscovered, uninvestigated, and unpunished.

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