In case you hadn't seen this.... It has a very different tone than the Hill
article from early October on OCE. (
Policy Counsel | Sunlight Foundation
Twitter: danielschuman | 202-713-5795
Congressional Ethics Inquiries Drag on, Despite Vows to End Corruption By ERIC
WASHINGTON — With high-profile investigations under way against Democrats
and Republicans, Congress is facing a series of difficult tests of the
toughened ethics system that it put in place to weed out corruption and
malfeasance among its members.
Two years ago, after a scandal that centered on the disgraced lobbyist Jack
the House created an independent ethics office as part of what Speaker Nancy
an effort to end the “culture of corruption” in Washington. The
Senate also took action, setting up what it described as tough new
Since then, however, no member of Congress has been censured, the toughest
punishment short of expulsion, despite a number of recent scandals involving
sexual impropriety, financial dealings and conflicts of interest. The record
illustrates how Congress has struggled to police itself after years in which
its ethics committees were often derided as ineffectual.
For instance, two weeks after public disclosures raised questions about the
involvement of Senator John
Republican of Nevada, in possible illegal lobbying, Senate ethics officials
have yet to contact the former top Ensign aide at the heart of the case,
even though they portray it as a serious matter. Meanwhile, the
investigation of the finances and fund-raising of Representative Charles B.
Democrat of New York, has dragged on for more than a year and has become the
subject of tense political infighting.
Senator David Vitter<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/v/david_vi...>,
Republican of Louisiana, who is accused of having consorted with
prostitutes, was never disciplined for largely technical reasons; the Senate
said his actions came when he was in the House and did not involve his
professional conduct. And two leading Democratic senators, Christopher J.
Connecticut and Kent
North Dakota, were cleared of accusations that they received favorable
“V.I.P.” loans from Countrywide
Two former Republican senators have been officially admonished, a relatively
light punishment. They are Larry E.
Idaho, who pleaded guilty in an undercover sex sting at an airport,
New Mexico, who was accused of an appearance of impropriety for
contacting a federal prosecutor about a pending case.
Citizen watchdog groups are closely following the Rangel and Ensign cases,
along with a handful of other less visible investigations, as a sign of how
aggressively Congressional Democrats will pursue their pledge.
“For a long time, matters that should have been investigated were just
ignored, so we’ll have to see what type of accountability we have now,” said
Fred Wertheimer, an advocate for tighter Congressional ethics rules.
The handling of possible wrongdoing in Congress has deeper political
implications, as it did in the November 2006 elections, when Democrats ran
on a platform of cleaning up Congress. Each party is still trying to attack
the other as being soft on misconduct by members of Congress. With at least
10 of its own members facing ethics investigations, the Democrats appear to
have the most to lose, especially since they have taken the lead in pushing
for tougher ethics rules.
The last formal censure came in 1990 in the Senate’s “denouncement” of
Senator David F. Durenberger, Republican of Minnesota, for financial
In the Abramoff case, neither of the Congressional ethics committees took
any action, though numerous Congressional officials were suspected of
wrongdoing and a criminal investigation continues. Nor did the House ethics
committee take any action against former Representative William J.
Democrat of Louisiana, after $90,000 in cash was found in his freezer in
2006, deferring instead to Justice Department prosecutors.
“Congress will protect its own, no matter what,” said Melanie Sloan,
executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington,
an advocacy group that has brought complaints against both Mr. Rangel and
As one main part of the Democrats’ ethics push in 2007, the House created a
professionally staffed, independent Office of Congressional Ethics to review
claims of wrongdoing against lawmakers and supplement the work of the
oft-criticized House ethics committee.
This ethics office has no subpoena power, instead relying on cooperation
from lawmakers. But unlike the ethics committee, it can initiate reviews
without having to wait for a House member to lodge a complaint against a
colleague. If it finds grounds to proceed, it then makes a public referral
to the committee.
Leo Wise, a former federal public integrity prosecutor who is now the
director of the House ethics office, said in an interview that House leaders
had given his office the resources it needed, with a budget of $1.5 million
and seven full-time staff members, and that “over all, their approach has
been hands off” to eliminate political interference in its work.
The ethics office’s caseload steadily increased in its first six months of
existence, disclosure reports show, but its investigations have already
caused a bit of a backlash.
Tensions flared recently between the ethics office and the House ethics
committee, made up of five Democrats and five Republicans, over the
suggestion that the office staff might have withheld exculpatory information
about its continuing investigation into Representative Sam Graves,
Republican of Missouri.
The committee has not disclosed why it was investigating Mr. Graves, but
news reports have questioned his use of a contributor’s private plane and
his political support for a Missouri business partner.
Meanwhile, some members of the Congressional Black
an influential voting bloc, have also been unhappy with the ethics office.
They have suggested that unfair political motivations have driven the
investigation of Mr. Rangel and a separate ethics review involving a trip
that he and four other members of the black caucus took to the Caribbean for
a conference paid for by corporate sponsors.
Three other Democrats in the black caucus are also at the center of
continuing ethics probes.
Two Illinois Democrats in the caucus, Representative Jesse L. Jackson
have been drawn into investigations because of their involvement in the
scheme by then Gov. Rod R.
Illinois to sell the Senate seat vacated by President
Democrat of California, is under investigation as well, apparently because
of her role in directing bailout money to a bank that was affiliated with
Separately, the Senate ethics committee has begun an investigation into
accusations, contained in a New York Times article, that Senator Ensign
arranged lobbying jobs for the husband of his mistress and intervened with
government agencies to help his clients.
Kenneth A. Gross, a Washington lawyer who specializes in government ethics,
said the increased activity had made politicians, lobbyists and corporations
much more cautious about adhering to the rules, whether it involved staying
under a $50 lunch limit or disclosing lobbying ties and income sources.
Now, he said, “the rules of the road have changed.”