April 14, 2009

WITH ALL DELIBERATE SPEED:

More than a year after the House created the Office of Congressional Ethics, the quasi-independent panel is beginning to show signs that it is tackling investigative duties assigned to it by lawmakers, some of whom had raised questions about what the office was doing.

It was disclosed last week — though not by the ethics office, which is bound by secrecy rules — that the office had begun reviewing possible contacts between associates of Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. and then-Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich over naming Jackson to Barack Obama ’s old Senate seat. . . .

Those confidentiality rules make it difficult for outside groups to evaluate whether the new ethics office is being effective, said Meredith McGehee, the policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group. . . . For example, Republicans have been aggressively pushing for investigations of powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee chairman Rep. John P. Murtha , D-Pa., and his ties to The PMA Group. Clients of PMA — a defense lobbyist — received earmarks thanks to Murtha, who garnered campaign contributions from those with ties to the firm, including its founder and his relatives.

However, because of the confidentiality rules imposed on the ethics office, it is unlikely the public will know anytime soon if the office is investigating Murtha, unless there is a news leak.

I’m not holding my breath.