Naomi Seligman isn't happy with the House Democrats. And, I would say, with some reason.
You probably know that Seligman is Deputy Director and Communications Director for CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington). And with a name like that, you can probably tell she and her colleagues have their work cut out for them.
In any case, a week ago CREW called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate the 'mystery' behind defense contractor Mitchell Wade's sweetheart purchase of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's home for upwards of a million dollars over market value and whether that had anything to do with Wade's company going from zero to sixty in about ten seconds in the Homeland Security and Defense contracting game.
On Tuesday, CREW filed a related complaint with the Federal Elections Commission about Mitchell Wade's alleged practice of forcing employees of his company, MZM, Inc., to cough up cash for the company PAC to be served up for Reps. Cunningham, Goode and Harris.
In any case, back to Seligman and her beef.
Seligman et al. are pissed at the Dems because under the House rules only another member of the House can file an ethics complaint with the House Ethics Committee. And despite their best efforts, the folks at Crew can't find a single Democratic member of the House who's willing to go out on a limb and fill out a form saying that they think the Ethics Committee maybe ought to take a look at Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Wade), his house sale, 'his' fancy yacht, and his general status as the best kept (at least as far as we know so far) man in Congress.
Now, I've talked to various knowledgable folks. And the reasons are several. The ethics committee is shut down. So there's no point in filing a complaint. That's one of the main excuses. But the real reason seems to be this -- and the word comes down right from the House leadership: the Democrats don't want to start filing ethics complaints against the Republicans because they're afraid the Republicans will turn around and do the same to them.
They apparently want the 'truce' of the late 1990s back in force.
And just so we're clear, it's awfully hard to think of anything more pathetic than that.
Allow me a moment to explain why.
There are reasons beside cynical ones for an ethics truce to be in place. With all that has happened in the widening gyre of partisan warfare over the last two decades, there is some sense in both parties coming to some tacit agreement not to bludgeon each other senseless with endless hearings and investigations into what are often technical infractions by members on either side.
But if the price of a truce is that a member of the opposition party -- which if I'm not mistaken is making ethics and abuse of power one of its signature issues -- is not willing to throw down a red flag when a member of the majority party is caught quite demonstrably on the take from a businessman getting contracts from the member's committee, then you realize that there's really no point having an ethics committee or any ethics regulations at all.
If there is any point of merit in having a truce it is that both sides agree not to use ethics complaints merely as proxies in wider political battles and reserve them for the clear and manifest ethical infractions. But if it covers cases of manifest (almost definitional) political corruption, again, then there's no point in having an ethics committee at all.
But let me reel these angels back off the head of this pin.
The Republicans are running the most corrupt Congress in any of our lifetimes. I don't care if you're a hundred years old. Still applies. I'm not just talking about law breaking -- just as much, it's the practices that are actually legal but no less corrupt for that.
On Wednesday, the Post's Jeff Birnbaum had a story on the explosion in the lobbying trade since 2000. If the Dems want their knock-out campaign cudgel for 2006, Jeff provided it: "The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750 while the amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent."
In explaining these developments Birnbaum writes: "The lobbying boom has been caused by three factors, experts say: rapid growth in government, Republican control of both the White House and Congress, and wide acceptance among corporations that they need to hire professional lobbyists to secure their share of federal benefits."
Now, a daily newspaper man works under different constraints and has a different brief than someone in my shoes. And this is what my late advisor Jack Thomas would have called a crackerjack piece. But I think I can cover this ground even more simply.
How's this? In Washington today, everything is for sale so there are a lot more salesmen. And there's so much to sell they're all getting higher commissions.
It may lack the granularity of Jeff's explanation. But that is the essence of the matter. That's why there are so many more lobbyists. The whole place is corrupt to the core. It's Tammany on the Potomac.
And here's the most pitiful thing of all. The Republicans are running a wildly corrupt Congress -- particularly on the House side. And the Democrats are so shorn of power that they couldn't even manage to be very corrupt if they tried. After all, this kind of corruption is about selling access and power. And the Democrats have no access or power!
So how is it exactly that the Democrats should be afraid that the Republicans are going to be able to give as good as they get if there's an 'ethics war' in the House when that is the case. Some are just scared. Others, particularly some of the veterans, don't want to clamp down too much because they've spent ten years out of power and they don't want all the fun to be over if and when they finally get back in the saddle.
If elected Democrats aren't able or willing to take a stand against the cash-n-carry legislative ethos of Tom DeLay's Washington they're simply not doing the job anyone sent them there to do. And they should be replaced too.