It would be wrong to call the House ethics committee incompetent. Because, really, it ably strives to make itself as irrelevant and impotent as possible.
Please take a moment out of your day to appreciate its efforts.
From Roll Call
The House ethics committee has declared that an earmark requested by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) to build a commuter transit center near a handful of properties he owns would not be an impermissible financial conflict because any benefit to Calvert would be shared by other similarly situated landowners.
Just let that sit a little bit. Calvert used his power as a lawmaker to appropriate $5.6 million in taxpayer dollars to build a transit center that's within walking distance of seven of his properties (ranging from office and/or retail buildings to a storage facility). But there's no conflict there, mostly because any financial benefit Calvert achieved âwould be experienced as a member of a class of landholders in the vicinity of the transit Center.â You can read the ethics committee's opinion letter here
. Here's a map of Calvert's properties (click to enlarge):
In other words, because Calvert's aren't the only
buildings that might financially benefit from the transit center, there's no conflict. Or as the committee puts it in its own artfully contorted language: "We conclude that it is within your discretion for you to conclude that your properties do not constitute a financial interest in the earmark supporting the Corona Transit Center."
OK, so let's just say that I'm a property-rich lawmaker who wants to push the boundaries and play the earmark game for all its worth. What would it take for me to get into trouble? Just how self-serving of a project would actually garner the House ethics committee's disapproval?
âYouâd have to be remodeling your kitchen,â Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense told me.
The committee's ruling is great news for Calvert (whose earmarking shenanigans have attracted attention
before) and the growing group of lawmakers in the "honest graft" game (Justin had a great round-up
over at ABC yesterday). And it's yet another indication that the House ethics committee actually has a lower standard for wrongdoing than our criminal justice system, which is why far more lawmakers have come under federal investigation in the past several years than have been investigated by the ethics committee (Calvert is no exception