The panel has also toyed for the past two years with Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s pay-for-play scandal involving charges that he or his staff sought to buy President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. A separate congressional ethics office referred the matter to the House ethics panel after it "learned that staff resources of the representative's Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Ill., offices were used to mount a 'public campaign' to secure the representative's appointment to the U.S. Senate." But Jackson's House ethics probe remains on ice while the feds chase former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was at the center of the scheme and remains on trial.
The House Ethics Committee suffers from dysfunction by design. It is chronically understaffed and underfunded. The panel most recently went without a staff director for four months. Its investigative backlog was compounded by the partisan-charged suspension of two staff attorneys last fall who were knee-deep in the Waters' probe. And the panel's ranking Democratic member, California Rep. Linda Sanchez, is bogged down with her own ethical conflicts of interest.
Sanchez's chief of staff, Adam Brand, is the son of the lawyer handling Waters' ethics defense. That lawyer, Stan Brand, also represented Sanchez and her sister, Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, in a separate ethics case. The sisters engaged in smelly hiring shenanigans after an aide to Loretta embezzled money from the office account in 2006. Short of funds, Loretta "borrowed" three aides from Linda's staff. House rules ban members from paying people to do work in offices other than their own. Miraculously, Loretta's embezzling aide avoided jail time, and the Sanchez sisters escaped any sanctions for their payroll-sharing collusion. The House ethics opinion on the matter remains confidential.
Intended to boost voters' confidence in Congress (now at an all-time low), the committee's stubborn secrecy and predictable wrist-slap punishments (see "Rangel, Charlie") only make matters worse. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: House-soilers can't be cleaners. Voters, not Washington politicians, are the ultimate ethics committee.