Ethics in Washington. Kinda Like Snow in July.

by on January 11th, 2005

The war in Iraq, the threat of terrorism, reforming Social Security. Washington has a lot to deal with. So what was the first action of the newly convened 109th Congress? Changing rules, making it harder to launch an ethics investigation of Congress members.

Washington’s new view of ethics has led to political arm twisting, illegal propaganda, and $240,000 of your tax dollars being used to promote a political point of view.

Ethics probes of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) have stung the majority party. So DeLay’s fellow Republican leaders diluted the power of the House Ethics Committee to investigate anyone. It’s the only committee in Congress with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans regardless of which party’s in the majority at any time. In the past, a tie vote along party lines would be enough to trigger an investigation. Now, you have to get someone to cross party lines and come up with a majority to start a probe.

The rule change effectively politicized ethics. And if you don’t like it, tough.

Just ask Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO). He chairs the committee – though maybe not for much longer. He’s had so many run-ins with Rep. DeLay, the two barely talk. Rep. Hefley doesn’t like the rule change. So the party leadership is thinking about changing chairmen.

In other words, don’t speak up for ethics or you lose your job.

This comes at a time when Washington seems to think the ends justify the means. Whether we see images of torture at Abu Ghraib to extract information, or use information to peddle the majority party’s pet projects. Washington isn’t so worried about how it gets things done so long as it gets what it wants.

The Government Accountability Office reported that the Bush administration broke the law – producing “covert propaganda” to promote the Office of National Drug Policy. The White House used your tax dollars to produce fake news reports that were fed out to local TV stations just before the Superbowl in 2004. There was nothing in the reports to let the average viewer know these were carefully crafted propaganda pieces, not fair and balanced reporting.

And it turns out that the White House spent another $240,000 of your tax money to buy time on commentator Armstrong Williams’ show. The deal was to promote the administration’s “No Child Left Behind” act. But the idea was to make it look like legitimate news and opinion interviews. Mr. Williams says he understands critics will call it unethical. But he says he believes in the act.

No doubt $240,000 will shore up any faltering beliefs.

The GOP leadership in Congress and the Bush administration have a lot of goals they want accomplished. You’d think with control the White House and both houses of Congress, you could reach those goals without bending the rules – or breaking the law as the GAO found.

Odd that the party elected by “moral values” has so many ethical challenges.

Terry Turner