Jewish World Review April 29, 2005/ 20 Nissan, 5765

Wesley Pruden

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http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | To hear some of our congressmen tell it, all we need to resolve the growing congressional ethics scandal are aides who pay attention.


Finding "ethics" in Congress is a long day's work. You might find a stray ethic in the Capitol, lurking under an unread Bible in the speaker's office or at the back of the top shelf of a janitor's closet beneath the 1927 Sears and Roebuck catalog. But Congress is not the place to look for ethics.


Pity the congressional aide. It's true, he does get a free parking place on the street the rest of us pay for, and woe to the taxpayer who parks on one of the Capitol Hill streets he pays for, but an aide is always the designated fall guy when his boss fouls up, which is usually often.


In the pursuit of Tom DeLay by a gang of Democrats armed with steaming pots of bubbling tar and bags of fluffy feathers and pretending to be just out of church, we're treated to the spectacle of members — or Members with the capital M, as they're fond of styling themselves — scurrying about to "revise and extend" the documentation of assorted trysts and assignations with lobbyists and other highly paid hacks. From all the froth and frenzy, you might think some of them had written hot checks on the House bank. The bag men complain that it's hard this week to find a congressman willing to take a freebie.


The latest victim of penmanship malfunction is Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, a Democrat, who first said that a junket she took to balmy Puerto Rico, along with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader, and a clutch of several other concerned congresspersons, was paid for by a Washington lobbyist. Now she has discovered that someone in her office, but certainly not she, made the mistake. The lobbying firm of Smith, Dawson and Andrews didn't pay the tab for her trip, as she first said it did. It was picked up by a group of Puerto Rican patriots, bursting with ethics, morality, etiquette and decorum, who have protested the U.S. Navy's bombing range in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Ricans wanted an opportunity talk to, some might say to "lobby," the congresspersons, and it was easier for everyone to have the lobbying done at that nice Doral Resort rather than in a cramped office at the Capitol in Washington. Stephanie finally got her paperwork to accord with Nancy's. Everyone's happy now.


Well, not quite everyone. As soon as everyone started talking about whether Tom DeLay had done something naughty with a lobbyist, a lot of other congressmen, both Republican and Democrat, started checking on the work of their aides and you might be surprised (or you might not) that a lot of "inadvertances" have been found. Pesky little rascals, those "inadvertances."


Rep. Tom Feeney of Florida, a Republican, first said a North Carolina lobbying firm (Rotterman & Associates) picked up the $1,946 tab for sending him and Mrs. Feeney from their home in Orlando to West Palm Beach, a nice 171-mile drive down the coast, to make a speech. Actually, the congressman now says in an amended document, the tab was picked up by the Center for the Study of the Popular Culture, based in California. (Whoever paid for it, the speech was no bargain; at $1,946 the Feeneys could have driven down at the rate of $5.69 a mile for the round-trip, which is a little better than the 37.5 cents everyone else in the government gets.)


A luckless aide was assigned to write a seriously fawning apology to the North Carolina lobbyists.


"I cannot tell you how sorry I am that you were mentioned in the [newspaper] story," he wrote. "As you know, the current environment in Washington is such that reporters are in such a frenzy to write anything about Members' of Congress travel that anything not done absolutely correctly seems newsworthy to them. I hope this does not harm your great reputation for the excellent work that you do."


Indeed, even The Washington Post, which more or less invented frenzy over Republican trespasses and transgressions, is having trouble dealing with the ripe aroma over the Capitol, reporting that Democratic lawmakers are settling old restaurant bills, filing missing forms and revising old ones. Nancy Pelosi, who has led the charge against Tom DeLay, assigned an aide to remember that she forgot to file a disclosure form for a $9,087 trip to South Korea until a newspaper reporter inquired about the aide's trip. "I did not know I was supposed to file these forms," the aide wrote to the ethics committee, "and I apologize for its lateness." We know how rotten she and Nancy must feel about it.


Well, nobody's perfect, not even San Francisco Democrats.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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