House Should Not Have Outside Ethics Panel

Posted: Apr 30, 2007 10:59 AM

Just because the House ethics committee has, in recent years, been dragged into the Democrat Party's cancerous strategy of criminalizing politics is no reason to make the situation even worse with an "outside panel." Article I of the Constitution clearly makes it a duty of the House to "determine the rules of its proceedings (and) punish its members for disorderly behavior." It's the House's job, and despite the efforts of Democrats to co-opt the House ethics committee into their Shadow Party of character assassination, the process still worked for the most part.

I know all this firsthand. My own experiences with the ethics committee, while frustrating, to be sure, were generally positive. Despite the media's decision to give my name new prefixes -- "embattled," "ethically challenged" and the like -- the fact of the matter is that the House ethics committee exonerated me of any wrongdoing in every complaint the Democrats ever brought against me. Not once in my career was I ever found guilty of having violated House rules or any law. You see, I'm not just a commentator about the House ethics process; I was also a client.

What, then, is the problem? My own cases shed some light on this. After losing his primary election -- a loss he blamed on me rather than his own poor service of his district -- a lame-duck Democrat congressman told a liberal interest group that he would sign any ethics complaint they could cook up against me. They did, he did, and all of a sudden my name was in the gutter. The House ethics committee looked into the evidence and, finding none to corroborate the outlandish charges, was duty-bound to clear me. The Democratic leadership, however, already had announced its strategy to personally attack leading conservatives in an effort to win back the House, so ethics committee Democrats demanded something they could use to attack me. Without any evidence to support an actual sanction against me, Democrats instead invented the idea of a public letter of admonition.

Letters of admonition basically say, "You didn't do anything wrong, but don't do it again." Throughout the history of the House, admonitions were delivered privately so that the member would not be subjected to unfounded, salacious media attacks. Until me. For the Democrats, the unfounded, salacious media attacks were the whole point, and certainly more important than the integrity of the House or my public image. The House ethics process is supposed to protect innocent members from frivolous accusations; by rejecting precedent and "admonishing" me for things they admitted I didn't do, the House ethics process failed in that responsibility. The same could happen to any member.

And yet, worse still than the current, imperfect system would be an outside, "nonpartisan" ethics panel. "Nonpartisan" is a term of art in Washington meaning "consisting of aggressive liberal Democrats and passive liberal Republicans." The practical effect of this "outside" panel would be a complete takeover of the ethics process by well-funded liberal interest groups and journalists, hyping honest mistakes by conservatives into scandals, demanding show trials for the accused, howling for blood until the blind-sided Republican -- as he invariably does -- has had enough and resigns. Liberal members would be shielded from consequences from all but the most outlandish ethical lapses and, because the whole thing is "nonpartisan," after all, no one will cry foul.

Outside panels aren't accountable. The reason the ethics process can work is that members on the committee have to look their colleagues in the eye when they go back to their legislative work. Railroading someone or covering for them hasn't typically been tolerated, so ethics committee members -- like Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), for instance -- have served honorably on the committee. They and many others like them were straight shooters, and the process would have continued to work as it's designed to if Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had honored the process rather than politicizing it.

In recent years, liberals have argued that conservatism is a psychological disorder, a function of ignorance and bigotry, and, most recently, that it is a crime. This is a toxic trend, and even as someone who has been hurt by it, I can say that the only organization that can fix the House ethics system is the House ethics committee itself.