Irresponsible Leadership

Even as Congressman-turned-lobbyist Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) asked the audience at a recent Washington lobbyists’ dinner to "rededicate" itself "to integrity," the bigger buzz was which high-powered lobbying firm might hire one of the other attendees that night: the recently resigned Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Said Charles R. Black Jr., chairman of BKSH & Associates, a lobbying firm, "Tom DeLay has been the greatest strategist for getting legislation through the House in his generation," adding, "he could come over here and be my boss if he wanted to be."

The fact that DeLay was admonished four times by the House ethics committee for his "strategies" of arm-twisting, threats and selling access to corporate lobbyists, or that he is under indictment for money-laundering in Texas, or that he is under investigation in Washington for his involvement in the wholesale bribery efforts of his "dear friend" Jack Abramoff, seems of little consequence to the special interest lobbying world. All they know is that Tom DeLay can get their legislative priorities through Congress, and how he does it is apparently of little consequence.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. While there are certainly corporate CEOs who display genuine impulses of social responsibility, you don’t find them represented too often in the world of high-powered Washington lobbyists.

But would it be too much to ask for more leadership on ethics from members of Congress – even Democrats?

Maybe so. While the Democratic members of the House have been (rightly) decrying Republican plans to offer their milquetoast "reform" package without the opportunity for debate or amendment, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) spokesperson said last week that Rep. Pelosi saw no need for a special Office of Public Integrity to independently investigate possible ethics violations. She thinks most Democrats believe the House ethics committee should be able to do this work on its own – even though it has become clear over the past year to all but the most obtuse observers that partisan deadlock on the committee makes this all but impossible.

We hope that many House Democrats will prove the minority leader wrong when the OPI comes up for a vote later this month. But how could a Congressional leader like Rep. Pelosi be so blind on this issue? As respected ethics expert Norm Orenstein of the American Enterprise Institute diplomatically notes in his current Roll Call editorial, "When it comes to ethics, most House Members of both parties have their heads set so far up their posterior orifices they are unlikely ever to see the sun shine again."

-Gordon Clark