As I read yesterday about the GOP’s sneaky effort to neuter the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), the most disheartening thing I encountered was an account of the reaction to the anti-ethics coup by Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-5):
The overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats in the House detest the Office of Congressional Ethics and want to revamp it, said Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.
“When that happened to Sam, I thought, ‘This is horrible.’ Then it happened to (North Carolina Rep.) Mel Watt. Then it happened to (Mississippi Rep.) Bennie Thompson. And all these people were cleared,” Cleaver said in an interview Tuesday.
“Some people say, ‘Well, if they were cleared, don’t worry about it,’ ” he said. “But once it hits the newspaper it’s just like mud thrown against a wall. It can fall to the ground but the stain is still there.”
Cleaver said Democrats stood ready to work with Republicans to repair what many of them considered a very flawed ethics office. But not in secret.
Yeah, I get that it’s hard to have to be accountable for every little thing that you do – but that type of accountability goes with the type of power wielded by congressmen. You get the goods, you pay the price. And, yes, accusations can spoil a reputation. But that’s better than weak oversight by a House Committee that’s all too susceptible to partisanship and good ol’ boy pressure.
Despite Cleaver’s concern, the OCE investigation didn’t seem to do much harm to the folks cited by Cleaver as examples of its overreach. Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) was indeed cleared of trying to sell his vote, but he still harbors a grudge against the OCE for even considering the charges – in spite of the fact that he was reelected subsequent to the investigation. While I don’t know the details of the improprieties alleged against Bennie Thompson (D-MS) to which Cleaver refers (here’s one such story reported by TPM), I do know that he’s still serving in the House so it looks like he survived scrutiny by the OCE. Personally, I’m relieved that we have institutions that will investigate such allegations.
As for Cleaver’s outrage about Rep. Sam Graves, it might be just a little misplaced. Graves may have been cleared by the aforesaid weak House Ethics Committee after the OCE passed its findings along, but, if his hands are not absolutely filthy, he still seems to have fairly soiled fingers. In 2010 the US News and World Report’s Paul Bedard reported allegations that Graves “has been the subject of a new scandal every few months over the past two years.”
The DailyKos account of another of the “horror” stories the GOPers mustered to motivate their action – the sad story of Duncan Hunter’s rabbit – also falls a little short when it comes to mustering the type of righteous indignation Cleaver expresses. It seems that the OCE may have taken exception to travel reimbursements for transporting Hunter’s family’s pet rabbit in-cabin on flights. Hunter alleges this charge was an oversight, an honest error. Yet as DailyKos’ Laura Clawson notes, “this was just one $600 rabbit travel oversight among $62,000 in jewelry, video games, resort stays, oral surgery oversights and mistakes under specific circumstances.” Oh my!
Just these few examples are enough to show us why the Republicans are so eager to “reform” ethics oversight. As a former OCE attorney observed about their latest attack, “it effectively allows the committee to shut down any independent investigation into member misconduct. Historically, the ethics committee has failed to investigate member misconduct.” A sweet deal indeed for members of the party of Trump.
But a sweet deal for Democrats too? I don’t get Rep. Cleaver’s tender sensibilities. What’s he got to hide? When Elizabeth Warren tweets “who, exactly, thinks that the problem with Washington is that we have too many rules requiring the gov to act ethically?,” isn’t it embarrassing to answer that it’s one of the two Democratic representatives from Missouri?