Thursday, May 18, 2006

House Ethics Panel No Longer Dormant

As Jonathan Weisman reports in the Washington Post, the House Ethics Committee announced yesterday it will open three separate investigations after a year and a half of sitting on their hands in the face of multiple scandals involving House members. The Committee will examine possible wrongdoing by both Congressmen Bob Ney (R-OH) and William Jefferson (D-LA), in addition to a separate inquiry into the constantly expanding Duke Cunningham scandal.

Bribery is at issue in each case. In their separate sworn guilty pleas, four men have accused Ney of accepting bribes in exchange for taking official actions which benefited the bribers or their clients.

Two men - former Jefferson staffer Brett Pfeffer and iGate CEO Vernon Jackson - have accused Jefferson of demanding an ownership stake in a tech venture in exchange for help obtaining loans for the venture from the US Import-Export Bank, among other official actions.

The blast radius from the explosive Duke Cunningham scandal seems to grow wider every day, with each new revelation raising the specter of bribery of a different member of Congress.

The Committee also announced that were Tom DeLay not retiring from office on June 9, that he would have been investigated too. Better late than never perhaps, but that doesn't put the horse back in the barn.

All these scandals have been ongoing for the better part of the Committee's 16-month snooze, yet a self-serving bipartisan impasse effectively shut down the only ethical enforcement possible in what is supposed to be the most small-d democratic institution in the federal government.

Democrats and Republicans alike are responsible for the calamitously low public trust in government in the U.S. In the Pennsylvania primary held this week, more than a dozen incumbents lost .... in the primary, demonstrating a decidedly throw-the-bums-out attitude among American voters.

In other words, the Ethics Committee's renewed interest in doing their duty is welcome, but it may come too late. The same smelling salts which awoke the Committee from their idle torpor may serve to clean house come November.

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