A SAD COMMENTARY – AT 9:32 A.M. ET: We mentioned this yesterday – the injection of the race factor into congressional ethics investigations. This can get ugly, and divide the nation still further. From the L.A. Times:
The prospect of two long-serving African American lawmakers in the House enduring unprecedented public ethics trials seems likely to add to the growing tension between black members of Congress and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill and in the Obama administration.
Congressional sources confirmed late Friday that later this year Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Los Angeles) will face an ethics proceeding likely related to allegations that she sought to help a bank with ties to her husband receive federal bailout funds.
The House trial could come on the heels of the high-profile trial of Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the venerable Democrat from New York who is accused of 13 violations of House ethics rules. Like Rangel, Waters chose not to seek a settlement with House ethics investigators that would have involved some admission of wrongdoing.
Between them, Rangel, 80, and Waters, 71, have served in the House for six decades and are leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The caucus has long complained that the House ethics process disproportionally targets African Americans in the chamber.
I've not seen any evidence of that. Many of the black members of Congress come from old political machines, where ethical issues pop up all the time.
Since its 2009 inception, the Office of Congressional Ethics — an independent watchdog set up at the behest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — has investigated at least eight members of the black caucus.
Earlier this summer, Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D- Ohio), a member of the caucus, introduced a resolution that would strip the ethics panel of some of its power and allow House members to keep unflattering reports from public view. The caucus has stood behind Rangel even as other House members have called for his resignation.
Kenneth Gross, an ethics lawyer in Washington, said the push against Rangel and Waters "fuels the racial dimension."
It's unwise for Congressional Black Caucus members automatically to back members under probe. And trying to weaken the ethics panel looks like the Caucus has too much to hide.
As African-Americans rise in American society, some will go bad. It's inevitable. The proper response is to let the facts come out, and not ask for special privileges. Some racists will say, "That's the way they are," but the great majority of black members of Congress aren't under investigation.
The old Washington line prevails: It isn't the crime, it's the cover-up. If the public feels the CBC is helping with cover-ups, the corruption becomes magnified.
August 1, 2010