Monday, August 18, 2008

The Need For Independent Oversight Of Congress

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct generally has jurisdiction to investigate members of Congress and whether or not they have committed an ethics violation such as receiving inappropriate gifts, gifts or money from foreign entities, or bribes from lobbyists. They have many rules regarding the use of free private corporate transportation, vacations that are disguised as fact finding missions, and even rules as to what stock may be owned by a serving member of Congress.

The Committee touts it's many investigations and resolutions of various complaints against House members, but the simple fact is that the Committee has degenerated into little more than a sham that is used not to investigate actual wrongdoing of importance, but as a political weapon of gotcha by both political parties.

Some recent cases that you may or may not have heard of pretty much sums up exactly what the Standards Committee has turned into.

James McDermott gave the N.Y. Times a recording of a telephone conversation between Boehner and Gingrich in which they were discussing how to skew a Congressional investigation into Gingrich's activities, that was recorded by a Florida couple. Using cell phones, Boehner and Gingrich must have known that scanners can pick up the conversations. Whatever the case, the two were discussing what should have amounted to criminal activity, because they were conspiring to interfere with a Congressional oversight committee investigation of Gingrich. What happened instead was a ten year nightmare for McDermott, because he was sued and pursued relentlessly by House Republicans, who demanded the Standards Committee investigate McDermott.

In 2004, the Standards Committee sent Tom DeLay a letter admonishing him for all of his ethics violations, but since sham criminal proceedings were going to take place in Texas, the Committee settled for just slapping DeLay on the wrist. Had DeLay not resigned in disgrace, he could actually still be a member of Congress.

Again in 2004, the Committee gave an admonishment to criminal conduct of House member Nick Smith in the matter of his voting a certain way on the new Medicare Bill in order to gain support for his son's Congressional candidacy. Oh. By the way, DeLay was part of that one also. Admonishment. Not ouster, loss of position, admonishment. Other recent House members who 'got away with it' include John Boehner, Harry Reid, and Charles Rangel.

Then we turn and take a look at the Senate Ethics Committee, the same body politic that gave John McCain a virtual pass for his criminal conduct during the now infamous Keating Five scandal.

Recent rulings by the Senate Committee can but make one shake their head in wonder. Such as the letter of admonishment to Senator Larry Craig for his criminal conduct in a men's bathroom in Minneapolis.

Another letter of admonishment went out to Senator Pete Domenici for his criminal pressuring of then U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to prosecute Democrats just before the 2006 elections. The letter actually states that the Committee finds no wrongdoing on the part of Domenici, even though Iglesias has laid out an entirely different story. It wasn't too long after Iglesias refused to prosecute that Gonzo fired him.

Senator David Vitter, whose name was in the little black book of prostitution Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey, (who herself conveniently ended up dead), has received a letter from the "Ethics" Committee absolving him of any and all sins. Almost apologetic in tone, the letter states that there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Vitter. His name must be in the book for reasons other than soliciting a prostitute.

These events and actions taken by the House and Senate Oversight Committees prove that they can not be trusted to review matters pertaining to 'in house' investigations. Liken it to a police department with no Internal Affairs Division policing itself. Only this IS the Internal Affairs Departments for both the House and the Senate, yet they consistently are reluctant to enforce their own ethics codes. The reasons are probably many, but the most prevalent one would probably be the Congress not wanting the public to know the extent and the depth of the corruption within their own government.

There are those who seek to institute a Citizen's Oversight Committee. One that would independently investigate claims of wrongdoing on the part of members of the House and Senate. This is not an unreasonable idea, and one that is many years overdue. However, in order for any such organization to function properly, it's makeup would have to be carefully diverse. Having even one more person of a particular Party affiliation on whatever Board came into existence than another would cancel out the organization's effectiveness almost immediately.

So the makeup of any such organization should probably resemble something along the lines of a non-partisan Supreme Court. Not in any way a court itself, just 9 citizens from diverse backgrounds and political affiliations that would review allegations made against members of Congress, and decide whether they warranted further investigation.

Funding would have to come from the Congressional Budget Office, and should include salaries for the Citizen Oversight Committee, an investigatory team, travel expenses, etc.

Everyone is always complaining that we Americans don't have enough say in what goes on in our government, and they're right of course. But if we all start putting our heads together and coming up with ideas such as the one outlined here, we CAN take back our government, force the politicians to cut the corrupt practices out, and actually have a voice when corruption rears it's head. What we have now are a bunch of good old boys and girls who do whatever they please, knowing full well that even if they have to resign, the chances of any criminal prosecution from a crime they commit will be almost nil. That, ladies and gentlemen, is unacceptable, and we the people must start taking action, and taking action now.

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