The big news today was that the House GOP members tried last night to defenestrate the independent Office of of Congressional Ethics (OCE). Given the imminent installation of what will almost undoubtedly be one of the most corrupt presidential administrations since the Gilded Age, independent ethical oversight must have seemed to be so, you know, yesterday.
Republican majorities evidently are so used to operating with impunity that they did not count on the massive blowback that materialized literally overnight and which led them to backtrack today and declare that they would put the matter off until later in the session. As their President-elect tweeted, they had other priorities to accomplish – like gutting Medicare or passing massive tax cuts for the wealthy – before they move to enable wholesale congressional corruption.
The vote was – what else – secret, but according to the vote tally TPM is toting up, based on reader’s phone calls to their representatives office, Ann Wagner (R-2), to her credit, voted “no,” Blaine Luetkemeyer’s (R-3) office staff refused to disclose his vote, Billy Long’s (R-7) office promised to get back to the caller, while Jason Smith (R-8) is unaccounted for in the TPM list. Voting yes were Vicky Hartzler (R-4) and Sam Graves (R-6). Grave’s vote is not surprising, but it is especially interesting. According to McClatchy DC:
Graves’ experience with the watchdog came up during Republicans’ closed-door meeting Monday as an example of how costly and damaging such investigations could become for members, even if the accusations are never proved.
In 2009, the Office of Congressional Ethics recommended a formal investigation of Graves for inviting a business associate of his then-wife to testify on renewable fuels before the Small Business Committee, which Graves chaired. The businessman, Brooks Hurst, was invested in the same ethanol and bio-diesel cooperative as Graves’ wife.
Graves’ colleagues on the House Ethics Committee eventually cleared him of any wrongdoing and criticized the watchdog for its handling of the case.
The situation, however, could just as easily be construed as illustrative of the weakness of the House Ethics Committee. The OCE unanimously requested that the Ethics Committee investigate Graves for “potentially creating the appearance of a conflict of interest in selecting Hurst as a witness.” However, the Committee decided to let Graves off because they could not demonstrate explicit personal gain and “no House rule prohibits the creation of an appearance of a conflict of interest.” I bet there’s no explicit House rule prohibiting pedophilia either.
Just to provide a little more context, this investigation wasn’t Grave’s first conflict of interest entanglement. Grave’s propensity to dabble in ethanol production for fun and profit has led him into questionable territory before. In 2008 he was involved in a state-level conflict of interest imbroglio centered on financial incentives for Show Me Ethanol LLC. Yet Republicans and some Democrats – Rep. Emanuel Cleaver for one – will tell you that Graves was vindicated and that his ill-treatment by the committee is evidence that it is running amok and needs to be restrained.
Makes you wonder what they’re so worried about – maybe something about a culture of corruption and those pesky chickens that always come home to roost?