Totally Revamp the Ethics Committees and the Office of Compliance
A Washington Post report implying imminent government reform begins:
The House Ethics Committee said Monday it is reviewing charges lodged against two high-profile Democratic lawmakers and a senior Democratic aide.
The lawmakers facing an ethics review are Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and the longest-serving sitting House member, and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The staffer is Michael E. Collins, chief of staff to Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
Problem is the Monday they're referring to is Monday, June 26, 2017 -- the date of the article. Anyone looking for results from the committee would have had a long, probably interminable, wait.
John Conyers, as most know, did finally resign from his position as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee on Nov 26, 2017, a full five months later. But this partial resignation was not through any action whatsoever of the so-called Ethics Committee that was supposedly investigating him. It came from very believable charges of sexual predation and the consequent use of taxpayer funds to buy off his accuser that appeared in The Detroit News.
What former Conyers employee Melanie Sloan said is undeniable:
"The House Ethics Committee has never been known for taking a tough stance for unethical conduct by any member of Congress," Sloan said on Fox News's "Outnumbered Overtime."
"It’s often just a black hole where allegations go to die, we never hear about them again," she continued.
I'd replace the "often" with a "usually" or an "almost always." The Ethics Committees -- in the House and the Senate -- seem to function more as fronts for the preservation of the political class, irrespective of party. Once you're in, you're protected. Omertà rules.
Conyers, whose corruption on various counts was rumored and indeed written about for years, was as shielded by the committee and Congress as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Bill O'Reilly were by their networks. But we don't pay taxes to those networks, not directly anyway, and we don't have to watch them. And those men have at least finally lost their jobs.
Many accused politicians -- Conyers, Franken -- are still in place, their activities "to be investigated" by this same Ethics Committee that has, in essence, investigated no one. Yes, of course, everyone deserves due process, but what we are talking about here is a protection racket that has been going on for years. And the Ethics Committees are not alone in this reprehensible endeavor. The so-called Office of Compliance (how Orwellian) is their co-enabler by providing what sounds suspiciously like hush money.
From 1997 to 2017, the Office of Compliance awarded 268 settlements totaling $17.2 million stemming from sexual harassment complaints and other workplace violations, including provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
268 settlements? Does anyone know what they were? Who paid that $17.2 million and on whose behalf? Don't we have a right to know how it was spent, er, how we taxpayers were fleeced by our representatives? Apparently not. At least tell us who the harassers are who got a free ride.
Kudos to Laura Ingraham who has been calling for names to be named in this matter for some time, so far to no avail.
Those of us who have been following recent FBI investigations know our government isn't long on transparency in general. It was particularly bad under Obama, who bragged of transparency while practicing the reverse through his own unique form of high-toned obfuscation, and is only inching forward slowly under Trump. It's not even clear if the Senate has a slush fund similar to the House's, but remarks by Sens. Rubio and McConnell on the Ingraham Angle Wednesday lead one to believe it does.
Time for a big change. At this moment when an extraordinary number of charges are coming out of the woodwork, seemingly by the minute -- some probably false, but quite a number apparently true -- we need a totally transparent Ethics Committee system. The two committees should be completely revamped along with the Office of Compliance. They must publish all their decisions for the public along with, in all but the most extreme national security situations (rare in these cases anyway), the entirety of the evidence exposed for us to evaluate for ourselves.
No more Star Chambers in reverse!
Moreover and most importantly: Not one penny more of taxpayers' money should be spent on the malfeasances of congresspeople, ever, sexual or otherwise. From here on in, they pick up after themselves and go to jail if they misappropriate funds, just as we lowly citizens would. Hear that, Congressman Grijalva?
BTW: Ben Ray Luján -- the other congressman in the June 26 WaPo report at the top -- was cleared by the Ethics Committee just a few weeks later on August 1. Apparently nothing happened to Michael E. Collins either. This was the second time he was exonerated by the Ethics Committee.
Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and co-founder of PJ Media. His latest book is I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn't Already. Follow him on twitter @rogerlsimon.