Violation of the public trust: Why Senate and House ethics rules aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on

posted at 1:21 pm on April 7, 2014 by Dustin Siggins

In Congress, each chamber makes up its own “ethics” rules. Staffers have to attend seminars so they know the complex maze of regulations, and Members have to be careful about how they spend their time, money, and other resources on campaign-related activity. The idea, of course, is to prevent misuse of public dollars and to prevent even the appearance of corruption.

Sometimes, however, circumstances arise that show the complete absurdity of these rules and their enforcement. Exhibit A comes from Politico:

Top Democrats are putting something special together for their Senate colleagues in tough races this year: a vulnerable-incumbent protection program.

At-risk senators will get to beef up their back-home cred by taking the lead on bills and amendments tailored to their campaigns. And they won’t be stuck in the back row at news conferences but will be in front of TV cameras and taking center stage during Senate debates.

It’s all part of an effort to blunt a furious Republican midterm campaign centered on attacking President Barack Obama and Democrats in the Senate who supported his signature health care law.

Democrats are not alone in this egregious violation of the public trust. From a Politico article in September 2012:

Congress is trying to shed its do-nothing reputation this week — at least for some politically vulnerable members.

Its brief schedule of legislating this month before it breaks until the November election is filled with bills sponsored by lawmakers running in tough races this fall.

For Rep. Allen West of Florida, it’s a bill that would force the Obama administration to detail how it would avoid big defense and domestic budget cuts next year. Rep. Michael Grimm of New York is pushing a resolution of support for peace in Sri Lanka. And Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois has scored two legislative victories: one bill to rein in lavish, taxpayer-funded conferences and another that aims to help travelers by loosening restrictions on checked baggage.

“It’s not about my race; it’s about what’s right,” West said Wednesday of his legislation, which was introduced just this week. “I help me in my race.”

Though Washington is staring down a number of critical policy issues this year — not least of which the so-called fiscal cliff — much of its agenda is consumed by hard-to-refuse bills that lawmakers can tout back home.

These are only the obvious examples. Sometimes, campaign work happens on Capitol Hill in the form of redundant legislation. As I wrote in 2012:

One additional note: often Members introduce legislation that has no chance of passing, or is duplicative, just to impress constituents. One example of this is H.R. 787, the No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act of 2011. Despite the important-sounding name, the fact is that no Social Security is allowed to go to illegal immigrants, so this legislation is truly useless – or worse than useless, since staffers had to create it, print it, and introduce it, meaning it cost taxpayers some small measure of their tax dollars.

A few other examples of where campaign efforts masquerade as work for the public:

“Morning hour” in the House, where Members can spout off on whatever they want for a minute, which creates nice YouTube videos and press releases, but rarely turns into legislation.

Constituent letters, which are supposed to be an explanation of a Member’s policies, but too often are merely so much spin that I would get dizzy writing them. And in the office I worked in, only people who supported the Congressman’s position got responses. If you disagreed with him, you were out of luck.

Almost every single press release, Facebook post, and Tweet that comes from a Member’s office.

Not that readers of Hot Air need it, but this is just more evidence of how the first goal of most Members of Congress is not doing what’s best for the public, but instead what’s best for keeping them in office. And while violations of ethics should bring about punishment by Ethics Committees, it’s pretty clear no that’s not going to happen.

Which leads to the question of just what will the public do about this abuse of the public trust, now that Politico has brought it to light (again)? Will we just sit on our hands, or will Senate and House leadership offices get calls, e-mails, Facebook comments, and Tweets demanding they stop using our tax dollars for cronyism?

 

 

 

 

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Those two thugs s/b in a creche.

Schadenfreude on April 7, 2014 at 12:48 PM

The reason that “Ethics Rules” have no effect is that in both Houses, both “Parties” are really just different wings of the Bipartisan Governing Party. The main difference between the two wings is the degree of ruthlessness. Democrats will attack Institutional Republicans. Institutional Republicans will not attack Democrats, and will cower in a fetal position if attacked by them. They both will attack the American people at every opportunity to enrich and empower themselves.

They are co-conspirators. Both “Parties” regard the Constitution, laws, regulations, rules, and their own political lackies the same way that the rest of us regard a roll of Charmin.

Subotai Bahadur on April 7, 2014 at 1:35 PM

“Morning hour” in the House, where Members can spout off on whatever they want for a minute, which creates nice YouTube videos and press releases, but rarely turns into legislation.

I will always maintain that the institutional death of Congress came with the advent of C-Span.

I also say that bills must be reffered to by their number and not some cutesy name. Because these bills are almost always designed for message and not actual passage into law. Thus SR-115 becomes the Senator Smythe Act for “Protecting our Children and Puppies from Lead Paint, Tree Chippers, Falling Debris from Space, and Mean People Act of 2014.

Happy Nomad on April 7, 2014 at 1:38 PM

They are co-conspirators. Both “Parties” regard the Constitution, laws, regulations, rules, and their own political lackies the same way that the rest of us regard a roll of Charmin.

Subotai Bahadur on April 7, 2014 at 1:35 PM

Well stated. At best all the rules and regs are merely guidelines than actual rules and regs. CONgressional pirates, our very own distinctively native criminal class.

hawkeye54 on April 7, 2014 at 1:40 PM

the first goal of most Members of Congress is not doing what’s best for the public, but instead what’s best for keeping them in office.

…but why would they want to do that?…”It don’t pay enough!”

KOOLAID2 on April 7, 2014 at 1:41 PM

The fact that they are the only ones in the country who are legally allowed to police themselves, is why they’re a joke.

This combined with the fact they can give themselves pay raises, are allowed to conduct insider trading, etc, all without any outside scrutiny whatsoever, means they are the best funded, most powerful ORGANIZED CRIME syndicate EVER.

Meople on April 7, 2014 at 1:43 PM

And this is why we have to have term limits. As long as they can vote themselves whatever they want, and fund their “campaigns” using taxpayer dollars, we will never get rid of the lying sacks of sludge.

RoadRunner on April 7, 2014 at 1:44 PM

One term only. No re-elections.

trigon on April 7, 2014 at 1:48 PM

I’m telling you people, politicians ain’t gonna fix what politicians broke. But do you ever listen to me? Noooo. I’m the guy that belongs in a rubber room.

gryphon202 on April 7, 2014 at 2:03 PM

This column makes me wonder Dustin Siggins’ age and how long he’s been interested in politics.

This is old news, Dustin! Yes – Congressional ethics is an oxymoron. The FEC is designed to protect incumbents, not punish them. The laws are rigged so that politicians, staff, and bureaucrats are not accountable or subject to consequences. The entire federal government denies any fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers. And on & on & on.

What will the voters do about it? What is clear is that the American people are responsible for the politicians we have elected, and the government that those politicians have created.

I hope we demand better in the future.

pilsener on April 7, 2014 at 2:05 PM

Pilsener,

I am 28, and have followed politics for over a decade. I have been employed in the field for over five years.

You are right that little of what I’ve written above is “new” information. However, since most people haven’t worked for Congress, I was hoping to provide a little bit of insight into some of the “inside baseball” corruption that is often overlooked.

Dustin Siggins on April 7, 2014 at 2:11 PM

Whenever congress passes a law, they exempt themselves from it.
Check the fine print – I’ll bet congressmen are exempt from congressional ethics rules.
(I wish this was snark….)

dentarthurdent on April 7, 2014 at 2:34 PM

One term only. No re-elections.

trigon on April 7, 2014 at 1:48 PM

Seconded!!

dentarthurdent on April 7, 2014 at 2:39 PM

Which politician has been calling out both sides of the aisle more consistently than anyone?

Sarah Palin.

It’s not Democrats vs Republicans anymore…it’s the permanent political (e.g. ruling) class vs the people.

Wake up folks.

miConsevative on April 7, 2014 at 3:44 PM

miConsevative on April 7, 2014 at 3:44 PM

Sorry…should have been ‘(i.e. ruling)’…ugh.

miConsevative on April 7, 2014 at 3:46 PM

What are we going to do about it? There’s nothing we can do. They make the laws and they are no longer representing us. Short of revolution I guess we can fall back on the states…maybe.

crankyoldlady on April 7, 2014 at 3:47 PM

Dustin and other young people will have to learn fast what us oldsters have been watching for decades. Lets hope they can do something to restore the republic. It won’t be in my lifetime.

crankyoldlady on April 7, 2014 at 4:04 PM