GOP Reformers Concede Integrity Is Up-Hill Fight: Openness Said `Best Disinfectant' to Curb Graft
Archibald, George, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Despite reforms in the operation of Congress, House Republican leaders acknowledge they still cannot stop corrupt lawmakers from stealing government funds, as former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski did for years.
"If someone is going to conspire to defraud the taxpayers, and try to cover their tracks, this is still very difficult to find," said Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, head of the House GOP Conference.
However, in the 16 months since taking control, Republicans have "professionalized" Congress and "changed the culture" that tolerated - even encouraged - misuse of political office for personal gain over the past several decades, Mr. Boehner said as Rostenkowski, Illinois Democrat, prepared to surrender for a 17-month federal jail term for misappropriating $636,000 in House funds from 1982 to 1992.
Some public-interest groups that monitor congressional ethics and spending habits disagree on the impact of GOP reforms aimed at ending the sort of corrupt practices that culminated in the House Bank and House Post Office scandals.
"The culture of spending over there has changed rather dramatically, and it is being professionally run," said David Keating, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union. "I would not even call it professionally run in previous Congresses."
"In reality, there is not a grand tradition in the Congress for enforcing rules or common sense when it comes to . . . its own members," said Alex Benes, managing director of the Center for Public Integrity.
"There is also a fine tradition, however, in Congress of acting after someone has been caught, in an effort at least to appear responsive to what should have been done all along - the point being that there is not a lot of enforcement power brought to bear until someone has been caught doing something wrong," Mr. Benes said.
Mr. Boehner and other House GOP leaders cry foul at the assertion, saying they have put in place many tools to help outside ethics groups and the general public keep tabs on congressional honesty.
The changes mainly consist of tightening rules on members' expense allowances - now combined into one $900,000 to $1 million "member's representational allowance" for personnel, travel, newsletters and office expenditures - and requiring more documentation of spending for internal oversight and public review.
"We believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant," Mr. Boehner said, citing the latest Statement of Disbursements of the House - the old House clerk's report - for the final quarter of 1995. …