Last week, the House Ethics Committee confirmed that they were investigating two Caribbean trips, in 2007 and 2008, taken by a number of lawmakers, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), that may have violated House rules forbidding lawmakers from accepting corporate funded travel. The Committee empaneled a subcommittee to investigate and appointed G.K. Butterfield, a CBC member and participant in a similar Caribbean trip in 2005, as the chairman of the investigation.
Unlike the 2007 and 2008 trips, Butterfield’s visit to the Caribbean did not violate House rules, as the rules forbidding corporate sponsored travel were not passed until 2007 as part of a broad ethics bill. However, considering that the CBC is openly opposing this investigation and actively trying to reverse the rule that was broken by the Caribbean trip attendees, Butterfield appears to be in a fairly conflicted situation. While he has stated that “he would step down or recuse himself if he felt conflicted at any time during the investigation,” I think it’s fair to say that his personal relationships with the lawmakers who are under investigation is grounds enough for recusal. In any judicial setting — whether a judge or jury — there would be no question that a person in Butterfield’s position would not be allowed to hear this case.
This is just another example of the need for a more independent ethics body to enforce the rules of Congress. It’s getting tiring writing these posts about how the ethics process doesn’t work. Can’t you guys just get it right?