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Oxymoron: Congressional Ethics

With the Democrats coming to power, and all the chatter about “corruption” as the defining issue of 2006, Congressional ethics and reform of the Ethics committee process has become the latest cause c√©l√®bre for republicans and Democrats alike. John Boehner, in a column aimed at Republicans looking to regroup, touches on the need for a serious approach to ethics.

The existing ethics committee process must be faster, and we need to give it teeth. More to the point, I simply will not tolerate ethical misconduct in our Conference. Clear likelihood of serious transgressions will lead to suspension from important committee posts; guilt will lead to immediate and severe consequences.

Unfortunately, the one clear message coming from the Mark Foley scandal (and others) is that those with information about Congressional wrongdoing are generally afraid to come forward. If I have evidence that a congressman is dirty, and one of his closest friends is the ranking member of the ethics committee, what motivates me to blow the whistle?

The problem with the current ethics committee is not that it lacks teeth, it is the fact that the committee is made up of fellow members who are inclined to ignore the ethical lapses of their buddies. For evidence of this look no further than Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement of, and campaign on behalf of, John Murtha. Murtha is widely recognized as one of the dirtiest of the dirty, yet she has pushed him – HARD – for the number two post.

Asking a fox to investigate another fox for harassing the chickens is not a reasonable approach.

What we need, instead of a committee of congressmen investigating corruption, is a nonpartisan panel of citizens to act as ombudsmen. This panel would accept information, coordinate the investigation with staff, and independently issue penalties. The Congressman being investigated – and their friends – should have no role in the policing of their members.

Real ethics reform requires a step that Democrats and Republicans alike are unwilling to take – removing themselves from the process and allowing real, independent investigation into their actions.

Written by Michael Turk