Ethics v. Prudery


Over the past week or two I’ve learned two things: do not tap your foot in the bathroom and that prudery is more prevalent on Capitol Hill than a true ethical fiber. Apparently it is more worrying that a Senator may be a deeply closeted gay man than it is that another Senator is deeply tied into a massive FBI-led corruption investigation or that a senior congressman is being investigated for perhaps the shadiest earmark ever. I read this article by Norm Ornstein today and couldn’t agree more with what he has to say. With so many corruption scandals, not just tawdry sex scandals, “Who believes that the ethics committee will act proactively to investigate allegedly scandalous behavior before stories garner headlines or result in announcements by prosecutors that Senators are targets or subjects of investigations?”

Washington is currently awash in cases of alleged ethical misconduct. From Rep. William Jefferson to Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young there are over a dozen members who could have their cases investigated by a congressional ethics committee. As you can see from this video compilation created by Josh Marshall there is more than the enough for the ethics committees to choose from.

Of course, neither ethics committee actually does any investigating of ethics unless pushed by other members and even then it is unclear what can push an investigation to become meaningful. The one case, of all the cases that actually involve impropriety in the official actions of a Member, immediately referred to the Senate Ethics Committee was the case of Sen. Larry Craig. Personally, I can’t think of a single thing that Craig has done in violation of Senate Rules and therefore I don’t know why this case, as opposed to bribery investigations, is being referred to the Ethics Committee; although I can guess.

Sexual prudery rules on Capitol Hill, while true ethical misconduct goes unnoticed. Craig had his committee seats stripped within days after he was caught tapping his foot in a men’s bathroom. Sen. Stevens, under investigation for accepting bribes from Alaska oil execs, is still the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, the most powerful committee in the Senate. Rep. Young, under investigation for trading earmarks for campaign contributions among other things, is still the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee and the second-ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the very committee from which he inserted various earmarks that have caught the attention of the FBI.

From Fanne Fox to Larry Craig, Capitol Hill has been equally appalled and enthralled by political sex scandals. Maybe it’s time they get their priorities straight and focus on the real unethical muck going on behind doors in Congress and not bathroom doors in Minneapolis. It’s time for congressmen to stop pointing their noses up and instead point them down into some papers and get to investigating the actual problems in their own house.