A somewhat confusing investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics targeting eight congressmen is unnerving lobbyists and politicians who see the very foundation of their relationship coming under scrutiny. Reports the Times:
The Office of Congressional Ethics has sent corporate donors and fund-raising hosts more than three dozen requests for documents involving eight members who solicited and took large contributions from financial institutions even as they were debating the landmark regulatory bill, according to lawyers involved in the inquiry.
The requests are focusing on a series of fund-raisers last December, in the days immediately before the House’s initial adoption of the sweeping overhaul, which could win final approval this week. Some of the fund-raising events took place the same days as crucial votes.
Some of these alleged potential ethics violations are more distasteful than others. Take New York's own Joseph Crowley.
For example, on Dec. 10, one of the lawmakers under investigation, Representative Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, left the Capitol during the House debate to attend a fund-raising event for him hosted by a lobbyist at her nearby Capitol Hill town house that featured financial firms, along with other donors. After collecting thousands of dollars in checks, Mr. Crowley returned to the floor of the House just in time to vote against a series of amendments that would have imposed tougher restrictions on Wall Street.
Leaving a debate on Wall Street restrictions to take thousands of dollars from financial lobbyists, and then returning to vote in Wall Street's favor, certainly doesn't create an appearance of ethical cleanliness. But isn't this incident really just an extreme example of something that goes on all the time in Washington? Lobbyists give politicians money, sometimes it affects the way they vote. As detrimental as that system is for the health of the democracy, that's the way it is. Until the practice is outlawed (and there's no reason to think it ever will be) it's no more unethical for members of Congress to take lobbyist money five minutes before a big vote than a week or a month before a big vote. Of course, it looks a hell of a lot worse, which is a good enough reason not to do it.