TURES COLUMN: Eliminating Ethics: The New Plan

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, January 17, 2023

During the 2023 battle for the House Speaker, the number of ballots needed to pick a leader gathered the most attention, following by the need for concessions to win over “House rebels.”  Less attention has been paid to one of those concessions, the “gutting” of the Office of Congressional Ethics.  Yet that moment should command more of our attention than remembering exactly how many votes it took to pick Kevin McCarthy.  

As the debate over the House Speaker was taking place, the most famous member of the House became a newly elected politician, George Santos.  

There was an outcry over how this candidate extensively fabricated his resume, and he’s wanted abroad.  State and local officials are investigating him.

Normally, this kind of candidate seems to be exactly what the Office of Congressional Ethics, a generally independent body, was created back in 2008.  

They look at the allegations, and determine which cases have serious enough charges, and enough information, to be investigated.  Now, not so much.

It wasn’t just the investigations that the OCE did, but their public revelations also helped produce good governance.  When they reported on a House member and family accused of insider trading, it led to a law designed to curb this practice. I guess someone doesn’t want those kinds of investigations. I thought GOP voters had a problem with insider trading.

The organization has effectively been defanged, with fewer counsels, forced resignations, and a nearly impossible mission to hold members accountable, even as Bloomberg News documented how this organization of private citizens has done a better job of holding members of Congress more accountable than institutions that “police themselves.”

One person who will be happy by the Republican rules passage that defanged the Office of Congressional Ethics is Joe Biden.  He was wounded by the recent revelations that a batch of classified information was found at his VP library and at his Delaware home. 

Though there are huge differences between what he did and Trump did (as well as Biden’s cooperation with authorities instead of having the hubris to try and hold onto classified material and demand it back), the episode could have hurt him politically. But with Republicans showing disdain for ethics, it’s hard to demonstrate that you want honest government when you won’t even properly police themselves. Hopefully a special prosecutor will be appointed to look into this mess

The other most relieved individual is George Santos himself, who is quoted as praising the decision (calling it “fantastic”), even as he misled his constituents that he was sworn in before the House Speaker vote, and had already voted against the Omnibus bill, when he didn’t, showing how little he had learned from 2022.  Despite calls from local Republicans and organizations for Santos to resign and to hold a new election, McCarthy has his full confidence in Representative Santos, the gift who is likely to keep on giving for Democrats in the next election cycle.

As I write this, a religion candidate to be a professor at our college is giving a presentation on sin and crime, and analyzing the difference. 

Her point is that some sins aren’t listed as crimes in laws generated by the secular world, especially when political expediency and concerns are at stake. But that don’t make ‘em right.