It has been one dizzying roller coaster ride for ethics on Capitol Hill this year. Former Rep. Mark Foley’s resignation last Friday afternoon — after the mainstream press picked up the story of his sexually explicit e-mails to minors that morning — is just the latest in a long string of scandals sweeping across Washington.
Foley joins an ignoble cast of characters who are under indictment or investigation for corruption, or who already pleaded guilty or resigned from public office. Those who pleaded guilty to corruption this year so far include: lobbyists Jack Abramoff, Adam Kidan, and Michael Scanlon; Rep. Bob Ney and former congressional staffers, Tony Rudy and Neil Volz; Interior Department official Roger Stilwell and OMB official David Safavian. And investigations and allegations are still swirling around Reps. Tom DeLay, William Jefferson, John Doolittle, and former staffer Ed Buckham. I may have forgotten a few names, but it is hard to remember them all.
Yet, with this wave of corruption that swept over Capitol Hill, many Republican leaders — the party at the center of these scandals, though certainly not exclusively — continue to believe that voters do not care.
In January, when Abramoff agreed to name names of those whom he attempted to bribe, Congress was falling all over itself to offer the most sweeping lobbying and ethics reform legislative packages in a decade. But in the end, a belief that there will be no consequences at the polls for these scandals let the reform bills perish in conference committee. While Congress this year produced nine guilty pleas, convictions and resignations — it could not pass a single reform bill to clean up Washington.
Public Citizen is absolutely convinced that the public does care, and helped to launch the Voters First Pledge drive to prove it. All candidates for Congress were asked to commit to lobbying and ethics reform legislation if elected in 2006. Who signed the pledge, and who did not thus far, is posted at www.VotersFirstPledge.org and is updated daily. You can take action with letters to the editor, phone calls to candidates, and much more.
Well-financed lobbyists have run the federal government for years. Its about time that our membes of Congress answered to "we the people."