Republican Determination To Get Rid Of Ethics Rules, Knows No Bounds
The very first thing the House Republicans did in the new session was to try to pass an amendment by Virginia alleged sexual predator Bob Goodlatte neutering the Office of Congressional Ethics. A public uproar forced them to postpone the vote. In the last few days, many Americans have been aghast to read that the scandal-ridden South Dakota state legislature, completely controlled by a depraved Republican Party, has prevented prosecution of its own members who have been raping interns and pages and is declaring a state of emergency to override a voter initiative on ethics! This is what happens in a tyrannical, perverted one-party state like South Dakota:
Stung by scandal and rebelling against a state government known for its resistance to public scrutiny, South Dakota voters narrowly approved a ballot measure in November to impose ethics oversight and campaign finance restrictions aimed at cleaning up the capitol in Pierre.Yesterday we outlined several cases where corrupt conservatives have done their best to evade accountability for their repulsive ethics-free misdeeds but have been forced by public opinion to resign from office. And this week Anne Weismann, former chief counsel of CREW and Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org wrote an OpEd for the Washington Post on how members of Congress have surreptitiously succeeded in passing a new rule to shield their own criminal behavior. They wrote that "While all eyes were focused on failed House efforts to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics-- the only independent watchdog with jurisdiction over House members-- Republican congressmen led by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) quietly succeeded on another dubious ethical front: They adopted a rule designating records created, generated or received by a member’s congressional office 'exclusively the personal property' of that member and granting members 'control over such records.' Making congressional records the personal property of members seems tailor-made for the next lawmaker who, like former congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL), hopes to evade criminal responsibility by barring access to material allegedly showing how he misspent public funds." Schock was forced to resign from Congress and was convicted on 24 criminal counts in November and is still spending millions of dollars from wealthy GOP donors, fighting to stay out of prison.
But the state’s overwhelmingly Republican legislature is racing this week to set aside that new law by using its emergency powers, prompting cries of protest from voters and critics, who are calling the hasty efforts an antidemocratic power grab.
In effect, they say, the state’s voters are being told that their votes don’t matter.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented effort here by Republicans at the federal level, in Congress, and in South Dakota to swim in the swamp instead of draining the swamp,” said Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs for Common Cause, which has encouraged its South Dakota members to contact lawmakers there.
Before the indictment, the Justice Department engaged in a protracted legal battle with Schock’s lawyers over who controlled thousands of pages of congressional office records from his tenure. Both Schock and the House general counsel argued that Schock personally owned the records and could not be compelled to produce them. In arguing for the right to access documents showing how Schock spent public funds, the government called Schock’s ownership claim “repugnant to the fundamental principle that no man is above the law.” In other court papers, Justice lawyers pointed out that Schock’s congressional office “does not exist and has never existed solely to represent and serve the interests and goals of Schock or any other Congressman.” Ultimately Schock backed down in the face of a second subpoena, and his indictment quickly followed.It's tempting to blame this on Republicans and it's true that the nature of conservatism in inexorably tied to corruption. They can't be separated. BUT, the Beltway governance systems are fully based on corrupttion and what's left of America's democracy-- and, yes, the DC Democrats are just as responsible as the Republicans-- is rotten to the core. The system is tailor made for the most ruthlessly corrupt among officials to rise to the top-- the Debbie Wasserman Schultzes, Chuck Schumers, Cory Bookers, Steny Hoyers, Joe Crowleys, as well as that Kevin McCarthys, Mitch McConnells, Paul Ryans, Denny Hasterts, Tom Delays and John Boehners. How fitting for someone likeDonald J. Trump to be presiding over all of this in what very well may be it's final, dying days! His regime's transition and first week are known for two things: lies (lots and lots and lots of lies-- so many lies that even the staid old NY Times now calls it lies-- "This is not a presentation of 'alternative facts,' whatever that may mean, as Kellyanne Conway, President Trump’s mistress of misdirection, posited over the weekend; these are lies; good old-fashioned lies, baldfaced and flat-out lies"-- and operational denial of any and all acknowledgement that there are ethics considerations in governance. David Sirota: "A review of agreements between Trump’s top appointees and federal ethics regulators shows that none of the compacts mentions the 2009 executive order that requires incoming officials to sign a pledge to avoid participating in policies that 'directly and substantially relate to [their] former employer or former clients' for the first two years of government service. Obama-era ethics agreements included standard language obligating political appointees to follow the rule." Teapot Dome, here we come!
Now, with the latest rule change, members will be shielded from Justice Department subpoenas for records like those at issue in Schock’s case, including Members’ Representational Allowances offering a window into whether members have used taxpayer funds to advance their own interests. With this change, the House essentially has claimed that members’ personal interests in protecting themselves from compelled disclosure trump the interests of constituents and the public. Such a change tilts the scale in favor of the member in any future investigation of the theft of taxpayer funds from Congress.
This rule change also represents yet another example of Congress exempting itself from the same record and accountability system that governs the executive branch. Congress is not subject to either the Freedom of Information Act or Federal Records Act. Although the Center for Legislative Archives houses records of historic value of the House and Senate, the records remain the legal property of the House and Senate.
Now, by making the records of congressional offices the personal property of members, the House has ensured that none of these records will be available for posterity. How ironic that Republican-controlled congressional committees have relied on statutes such as FOIA and the Federal Records Act to fault the practices of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, yet members have cloaked themselves in an impenetrable secrecy that allows them to escape public accountability.
This is yet another example where President Trump’s “drain the swamp” rhetoric is contradicted by the actions of his own party.