House Ethics or Subterfuge?
Byline: Paul M. Weyrich, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Last year the House of Representatives passed legislation intended to govern the political behavior of its members by implementing tighter ethics regulations. The rules were meant to correct the corruption that has been prominent among members for much of the past eight years.
It was hoped that passing tougher rules governing members' business dealings and interaction with lobbyists might restore the integrity of the body. Would that it were so easy.
It seems the House wants to maintain the appearance of regulating itself while in practice leaving large loopholes in the new ethics rules. For example, the House allows lobbyists to honor groups of lawmakers with parties at political conventions but prohibits individual lawmakers from receiving the same, according to a statement released in December 2007 by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The House also allows members to meet with lobbyists at events outside Washington, although it does not allow them to accept travel paid for by a lobbyist. The Senate does not allow either and in general has taken a much stricter approach to policing itself than has the House.
Because of the many ethics loopholes in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has received criticism that the House has not done enough to curb corruption among lawmakers. She has responded by proposing legislation to create a new ethics office. Such legislation is gratuitous, as the sole purpose of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is to regulate gifts, travel and all other activities. It would seem that if it is necessary to create an entirely separate ethics oversight office, then very powerful forces in the House have no intention of being regulated at all or holding themselves to the high standard which public office demands in order to avoid corruption or a conflict of interest. If they are unwilling to obey the rules and police themselves through the existing committee, what good could one more layer of oversight do?
House GOP Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, noted as much in a statement he gave to the House Rules Committee on Feb. 27. He said, "The House Ethics Committee failed to act on credible allegations of wrongdoing [when Republicans controlled the House] - and from all appearances, is failing to act on credible allegations of wrongdoing now. …