Legal and Ethical Woes Threaten GOP Majority in the House

The hits just keep on coming for House Republicans these days; one GOP Representative sentenced to more than eight years in prison for corruption, another indicted on counts of money laundering and now more facing questions about ethics and potentially criminal behavior.

Starting with some of the less damaging charges, The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports that Richard Pombo may have broken House rules and engaged in activities that should have raised serious conflict of interest issues.

Two staffers on the House Resources Committee played key roles in developing controversial environmental legislation while receiving salaries from the Department of Interior in apparent violation of House rules limiting their congressional service to one year.

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Jackson Coleman and Rick Deery, the Interior employees, have worked as detailees under Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), the chairman of the Resources Committee, since the middle of 2003, Kennedy said. Their length of service is more than twice the length defined by the House ethics manual.

Does a Republican like Richard Pombo believe that the rules regulating the activities of Members of Congress simply don't apply to them because they are Republicans? Because they are a committee or subcommittee chair? Truth be told, this is not the biggest issue in Washington these days, nor is it the clearest example of illicit behavior by Republicans, but it does illustrate that even on small matters, Republican Members of Congress have shown a serious inability to play by the rules -- or the law.

Katherine Harris' misdeeds are also in the news this week, with The Washington Post's Charles Babcock reporting today that the Florida Representative greatly aided a major campaign contributor -- illegal campaign contributor (the donations he directed to Harris were illegal) -- who recently pled guilty to bribing another Representative.

Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) has acknowledged that she requested last year that $10 million in federal funds be set aside for a Navy intelligence program in her district at the request of Washington contractor Mitchell J. Wade, who pleaded guilty last week to bribing another House member.

Harris, who gained notoriety as secretary of state in Florida during the contested Bush-Gore presidential race in 2000, is running for the Senate this year. News media in her home state have been focusing on her dealings with Wade since prosecutors disclosed last week that she was the unwitting recipient of $32,000 in illegal campaign donations from Wade in 2004.

To top things off, Kevin Drum passes on some rumors circulating around the blogosphere today, namely that criminal charges may be pending against another four GOP Congressmen. The post, originally found on Preemptive Karma, reads:

A DC political operative has told me that Brent Wilkes, one of the individuals charged with bribing Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, has struck a deal with prosecutors to testify.

Wilkes will implicate four more Republicans for possible criminal activity: Richard Pombo, John Doolittle, Duncan Hunter, and Jerry Lewis.

It's pretty hard to beat the Democratic rap that there has been a "culture of corruption" under Republican rule of Washington when so many Republican Members of Congress are dealing with all of these ethical and legal concerns. As Tom Foley, the last Democratic Speaker of the House, stated this week in an interview with MyDD, the current environment in Washington is significantly worse than it was during the so-called House banking scandal, which, according to some political analysts, was a catalyst for the Republican takeover of the House in 1994.

Well I think, as far as the bank matter is concerned, there is no comparison at all. No one was charged with any offense, there was no government money lost, there was no abuse of any particular Congressional activity, no legislation was effected. So it became a kind of a celebrated political issue, but it wasn't really a scandal in the sense of criminal activity, abuse of office, loss of government funds, or any kind of special advantage that any outside group received for any support or otherwise.

[...]

It is possible that the low opinion of the public for Congress will affect both parties, but more specifically the majority party, the Republican Party, as the circumstances of 1994 affected the Democrats.

Indeed.

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Dem Senators vote to enable Congressional corruption

Joe Lieberman is not exactly a lieber Mann round here.

But - credit where credit's due - he's been pressing the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to OK an amendment to the ethics bill they're looking at - S 2128 , the Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act, which would establish an independent Office of Public Integrity to oversee the handling of ethics complaints.

Lieberman is ranking member of the committee, and he and Chairman Susan Collins have been jointly pushing for this office to be set up.

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John McCain's Corrupt Friends - PA Edition

Well, gosh, I almost teared up watching McCain drool all over Rick Santorum. Seems McCain thinks that Senator Man-on-Dog is a "good and decent person" who "represents family values."

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Obama ethics bill TOO ethical for Pelosi

Surprise, surprise!

I've not been the only one here to signal the disconnect between Pelosi's vigorous rhetoric on Congressional ethics (or rather the lack of them) and her scrupulous avoidance of any concrete step to improve them (an earlier piece).

It's happened again, according to this from The Hill.

Cliff Notes: the flurry of Dem activity on the ethics front in recent months led to the production of two bills. Pelosi's official bill is HR 4682; Obama, who supports the bill, has introduced another, S 2259, which goes further.

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IRS Probe Instigated by DeLay Ally Goes Nowhere

Confronted by a good government organization questioning his unethical actions, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay reverted to his modus operandi: sicking the federal government on his detractors with the help of one of his close friends. But as R. Jeffrey Smith reports in Monday's issue of The Washington Post, DeLay's attempt to quash his opposition failed miserably -- and in fact makes him look even worse (if such a thing were possible).

The Internal Revenue Service recently audited the books of a Texas nonprofit group that was critical of campaign spending by former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) after receiving a request for the audit from one of DeLay's political allies in the House.

The lawmaker, House Ways and Means Committee member Sam Johnson (R-Tex.), was in turn responding to a complaint about the group, Texans for Public Justice, from Barnaby W. Zall, a Washington lawyer close to DeLay and his fundraising apparatus, according to IRS documents.

Johnson, a member of the subcommittee responsible for oversight of the tax agency, sparked the IRS's interest by telling IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson in a letter dated Aug. 3, 2004, that he had "uncovered some disturbing information" and received complaints of possible tax violations.

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The IRS sent two auditors last year to comb the 2003 books of Texans for Public Justice and an affiliated foundation that collected donations for the organization. No tax violations were found, according to a letter the IRS sent the group.

But the circumstances behind the effort -- which were uncovered by the group's director and founder, Craig L. McDonald, using the Freedom of Information Act -- prompted him to allege that the audit was an abuse of the IRS's mandate. He said there was no evidence of wrongdoing in the complaints.

The Nixonian tactics used by DeLay to stifle questions about his own improprieties provide yet another example of why these bums must be thrown out of office. It's bad enough that the Republican Party has been thoroughly inept at writing legislation in recent years -- just look at the bloated and ineffective Medicare prescription drug plan -- but the GOP and its members insist on going further by using government to expand their own base of power.

An unnecessary IRS investigation into a real non-profit organization -- particularly when "charities" set up by Republicans like Rick Santorum are actuallymerit investigation -- is simply a continuation of the attempt by the Republican Party to centralize control of Washington in their hands. When the President appoints bumbling cronies like Michael Brown or corrupt Abramoff allies like David Savafian to positions of power, or the federal government pays columnists to flak for Republican policies, or a Republican Governor appoints his donors to serve as judges in a case looking into his ethical problems, or a Congressman trades earmarks for bribes, or a Congressman sicks the IRS on those questioning his actions, a gross breach of public trust occurs.

These people have no right to misuse government so frequently and so egregiously for their own benefit and the benefit of their friends. Government must be a force for good, not a force for individual power and profit. Truly, a prophet is needed today to throw the money-changers out of temple and restore goodness in Washington for this country and its people. Hopefully, he or she will arise sooner rather than later. And before it is too late.

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