Democrats and ethics

Don’t let ’em fool ya into thinking they are ‘above it all.’ They aren’t:

WASHINGTON — For the past year, Democrats have been jockeying for the high ground on congressional ethics, hoping a largely Republican lobbying scandal would help propel them into the majority come November’s elections.

But the issue is proving to be a two-edged sword, as Democrats themselves have come under scrutiny for allegations of bribery and conflicts of interest.

“You can attack one party for having a lack of ethics, but if any of your own members have problems, it dulls the message with the American people,” said Leon Panetta, an ex-Democratic congressman from California and chief of staff under President Clinton. “They begin to put everybody in the same box. It clearly loses some of its impact as a clean campaign issue.”

Carl Forti, spokesman for the GOP House campaign committee, said the “culture of corruption” argument doesn’t worry Republicans. “People vote for a person, not a party,” he said. “We don’t think it’s going to be effective.”

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken over the weekend, Americans said the Washington scandals don’t have a distinct partisan tilt: 76% say they affect both parties equally, 15% said corruption involves mostly Republicans and 5% said Democrats. But respondents gave a 41%-29% edge to Democrats when asked which party would do a better job of cleaning up corruption.

Democrats facing ethics problems:

•Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana, who is under investigation of alleged bribery in connection with helping market broadband telecommunication services in Nigeria. Former aide Brent Pfeffer and businessman Vernon Jackson have pleaded guilty. An FBI raid on Jefferson’s houses in New Orleans and Washington last year found $90,000 in cash in his freezer. Jefferson hasn’t been charged and has denied wrongdoing. His attorney, Robert Trout, declined to comment.

• Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, who directed federal grants to non-profit groups back home while entering real estate deals with top officials of the groups. The congressman’s personal wealth jumped. Mollohan has defended his actions as designed to bring economic development to his district, but he had to step down as the top Democrat on the House ethics committee.

•Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the subject of staff complaints that he assigned workers to babysit, chauffeur and tutor his children and pushed aides to do campaign work on government time. Conyers attorney Stan Brand said the congressman responded to the charges two years ago and hasn’t heard from the ethics committee since then. Republicans are “looking to increase the Democratic body count” in response to their own corruption scandals, he said.

Democrats also have taken hits from a run-in between Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and a Capitol Police officer, and an early-morning accident in which Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island weaved up a street in his car and struck a security barrier near the Capitol. He checked into a drug rehabilitation center Friday.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California sought to distinguish her party’s foibles from the scandals that brought down Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., for bribery and three former Republican congressional aides who had ties to ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abramoff, a Republican, pleaded guilty in January to corruption charges.

“You’re talking about two completely different things,” Pelosi said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. The Democratic ethics cases are “individual challenges that those people will have to deal with,” she said, noting that she has called for the House ethics committee to investigate Jefferson. Republicans, she charged, have a system of “corruption, cronyism and incompetence” that goes beyond personal indiscretions.

But of COURSE we’re talking about two different things, Rep. Pelosi. We know Democrats would never engage in the type of corruption that Republicans have been accused of engaging in, don’t we?

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