Sunday, April 17, 2005

Ethics Without Much Thought

A lot has been written about Mr. DeLay, Republican House Majority Leader, and his ethics problems (here, here, and here for example). This morning on the Sunday Funnies, there was again much talk about DeLay, and the changes made on his behalf to the House Ethics Committee.

The Republicans claim that ethics rules where too hard on the accused, opening them up to partisan driven investigations that hurt the accused political career. Since the Republicans are the majority party and can set the rules, they've changed those nasty rules so "bipartisan" action is now required to start any investigate into anyone accused, like their leader Tom DeLay, of a violation of ethics. To use a baseball analogy, this is like asking your 3rd baseman to publicly agree with charges of cheating made by the opposing team against your team's manager.

I just ain't gonna happen.

First a bit of background. Prior to the Republican rule change, from Representative Barney Frank, (D-Mass.) on today's MTP:
It used to be that if a serious complaint was lodged at the Ethics Committee, you would have to get a majority of the Ethics Committee to dismiss it, otherwise you went forward with an investigation.  In other words, you would have to get at least one member of the other party to say there's nothing there.  They have reversed that.  In baseball terms, the tie now goes to the runner not the fielder.
Before this latest Republican rule change, both teams had to have players that agreed a charge was most likely bogus to head off an investigation. So if there were doubts, potential violation were investigated then actions taken based on the facts discovered. But the Republicans don't like investigations or facts, so they changed the rules.

Now if Tom DeLay, Republican Majority Leader, is accused of ethics violations, one of his very own Republican colleagues, hand picked by the Republican leadership to sit on the House Ethics Committee, needs to agree that the charges merit investigation in order to even start an investigation. If not, the charges are automatically dismissed in 45 days. In other words, if no one on DeLay's team sides with the other team, then DeLay is automatically cleared of any wrongdoing with any investigation what so ever!

Now why would the Republicans want to change the rules in this way? From Representative Roy Blunt, (R-Mo.) who just happens to be the House Majority Whip:
Fifteen years ago--Barney mentioned 15 years ago--that's what the rule was 15 years ago:  It took somebody from the other party to decide to move forward.  Only in 1997 in a package of ethics changes, really without much thought, was it decided, "OK, we're going to have this one area where a majority doesn't have to make a decision and half of the committee can just keep a member perpetually under investigation."

Just remember, Tim, 45 days, then 90 days.  Ninety days is--that's an eighth of the time a person is elected to serve in Congress, and they're under this cloud, this interminable cloud, even with the current rule.  Under the old rule, you could be under this cloud the whole time you're in the Congress and nobody ever has to agree that this is enough of a problem to truly move forward and do anything but continue to investigate it.
Now here's the funny part. Who do you think created that old rule "without much thought"? Which party do you think cried about ethics reform and wanted a rule where it could keep people under a "cloud" of investigation? From Rep. Frank:
Mr. Blunt says that's the way the rules were until 1997, because there's a pattern here.  The Republicans took power in 1995 on the grounds that things were terribly corrupt and badly run and they were going to change things...

[...]

I must say, Mr. Blunt, that's rather dismissive of your Republican revolution.  You say that in 1997--the Republicans came to power in '95 and fairly shortly after that they changed the rule.
That's right, boys and girls. The Republicans changed the rules in 1997 after they ran on a platform of cleaning up Democratic corruption. Now that the Republicans are the majority, and their leader is being charged with corruption, the rule isn't so good anymore. So they are changing them back to the way they used to be. Just like they were when Republicans said such rules supported Democratic corruption. But now it's Republican corruption, so that make everything different.

The Republican leadership is now so corrupt that it is attempting to justify Republican Ethics Committee rule changes by arguing against the very rule changes Republicans made to the rules in the first place.

This is a gift to every Democrat running in 2006.