Diary

House Ethics Committee vs Congressional Black Caucus

The House Ethics Committee has seven active investigations going. All are against black Democrats. And this doesn’t include William Jefferson of course, since he’s already gone. Nor does it include Jesse Jackson Jr, who would make it 8 for 8, since the Justice Dept asked them to hold off while they look into Blago connections.

The ethics committee declined to respond to questions about the racial disparity, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus are wary of talking about it on the record. But privately, some black members are outraged — and see in the numbers a worrisome trend in the actions of ethics watchdogs on and off Capitol Hill.

“Is there concern whether someone is trying to set up [Congressional Black Caucus] members? Yeah, there is,” a black House Democrat said. “It looks as if there is somebody out there who understands what the rules [are] and sends names to the ethics committee with the goal of going after the [CBC].”

So it’s not that any of them are unethical or anything — the only possible explanation is that it’s because they’re black.

African-American politicians have long complained that they’re treated unfairly when ethical issues arise. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are still fuming over Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to oust then-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from the House Ways and Means Committee in 2006, and some have argued that race plays a role in the ongoing efforts to remove Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) from his chairmanship of that committee.

If you consider a couple of obvious crooks like Jefferson and Rangel to be above reproach, could you possibly set the bar any higher as to what you consider to be unethical?

A document leaked to The Washington Post last week showed that nearly three dozen lawmakers have come under scrutiny this year by either the House ethics committee or the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog created in 2008 at the insistence of Pelosi. While the list contained a substantial number of white lawmakers, the ethics committee has not yet launched formal investigative subcommittees with respect to any of them — as it has with the seven African-American members.

The OCE has also been a particular target of ire for the Congressional Black Caucus. Black lawmakers, including CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), met with OCE officials earlier this year to raise their concerns. Spokesmen for Lee and the OCE both declined to comment.

A number of CBC members opposed the resolution establishing the OCE, arguing that it was the wrong response to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, which helped Democrats seize control of the House in 2006.

Setting up the OCE “was a mistake,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) told The Hill newspaper recently. “Congress has a long and rich history of overreacting to a crisis.”

How else can one interpret this other than to say that the CBC thinks Pelosi is a racist who set up OCE for no reason other than to harass black congressmembers?

Another CBC member said black lawmakers are “easy targets” for ethics watchdog groups because they have less money — both personally and in their campaign accounts — to defend themselves than do their white colleagues. Campaign funds can be used to pay members’ legal bills.

“A lot of that has to do with outside watchdog groups like [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington] that have to have a level of success to justify OCE,” the CBC member said. The good-government groups were strong backers of the OCE’s creation.

This just gets more bizarre — please tell me I’ve got this wrong. The CBC argument seems to be that if only racist groups like CREW had allowed them to steal more money than they did, they’d be safe. But wait, there’s more….

But these same groups won’t go after Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), this lawmaker claimed, “because she has plenty of money to defend herself,” and the outside groups don’t want to take a risk. The Democrat said the ethics committee would be going up against Harman’s lawyers and “going up against” the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee if they push the OCE to pressure the ethics committee to act.

Oh goody. We certainly want to include those damn Joooooz as being in on it.

“It is kind of crazy,” said an aide to one senior black Democrat. “How can it be that the ethics committee only investigates African-Americans? It doesn’t make sense.”

I think the CBC members should be on TV every day squawking about this. Maybe Keith Olbermann can put Nancy Pelosi on his worst person list until either all these investigations are dropped or until a proportional number of white representatives are under investigation. (Here’s an idea: They can start with John Murtha!)

Lastly, let’s include the Senate in this game as well. Reid must be following Pelosi’s lead.

The nation’s only black senator, Roland Burris of Illinois, is currently under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. It’s not clear whether that committee is currently investigating any white members, although Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is likely to be in its sights if the Justice Department doesn’t pre-empt a committee investigation.