Retaliation Fears Stall Ethics
MARCH 11, 2009
Illustrating that political corruption is indeed a bipartisan issue, House Democrats and Republicans admit fear of retaliation prevents them from filing formal ethics complaints even though legitimate cases abound.
A political news publication reports that the threat of a mutually assured destruction has kept House members from filing a formal ethics complaint in nearly five years. Leaders from both parties further admit they don’t want to ignite a full-blown ethics war like the one that dominated the House in the 1990s.
The last time a member filed a formal ethics complaint against another member was in 2004 when Texas Democrat Chris Bell did it to disgraced Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who was eventually indicted by a grand jury for violating campaign finance laws. Even then, Bell waited until it was clear that DeLay would not return to Congress.
Now Republicans fret that if they file a complaint against, say, Pennsylvania’s John Murtha for his scandalous relationship with several defense contractors, Democrats will return the favor by filing their own against the likes of California’s Jerry Lewis and Alaska’s Don Young.
Murtha, who chairs the powerful Defense Appropriations subcommittee, has for years steered hefty earmarks and lucrative no-bid government contracts to his favorite firms and, in turn, the congressman has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from their top executives and employees.
Lewis, a ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, is famous for abusing his position as chairman to steer hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks to family and friends in direct exchange for contributions to his campaign committee.
Under federal investigation for corruption, Young recently lost his senior committee leadership positions. Since 2007, the veteran lawmaker has spent more than $1 million in campaign contributions on legal fees related to a Justice Department investigation which includes his shady fundraising practices.
There are several other House members, both Democrat and Republican, who could easily qualify to star in ethics complaints these days.
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