The recent revelations about Senator Dodd’s sweetheart mortgage deal and Congressman Murtha’s troubled ties to pork begging companies have me thinking about ethics oversight in Congress. Frankly, it is a joke. There is no incentive for the party in power to police their own members unless the violations are so obvious that the press cannot ignore them. Also voters in the congressional districts that support unethical members all too often are complicit in the violations. They know these guys are sleazy but they continue to send them back because the voters get bribed with pork. Let me propose two simple ideas that might improve ethics oversight.
Currently ethics committees in both houses of Congress are limited to equal numbers of members from both parties. This give each party effective veto power over any allegation. Unfortunately all this setup does is stop investigations because neither party wants to hurt themselves. A better setup would be any member is investigated and judged only by committee members of the opposite party. Wouldn’t this create a lot of false allegations for pure political gain? It might, but both sides need to remember that their opposition is capable of retaliation. Besides, the founding fathers intended Congress to be adversarial. Factions can only be kept in line by other factions. Another bonus of this system is more investigations of more congressmen. Do you seriously think Congress has a problem of over-investigation currently? There are too many corrupt politicians getting away with too much right now. Besides blatantly obvious corruption, the only way a Congressman is punished for ethics is by being voted out of office by his constituents. The only way they are made aware of the situation is through opposition campaigning. In other words, what I am proposing is just formalizing a process that is already in place.
What to do about voters who keep revoting for sleazy politicians? Congressional districts should be punished along with Congressmen. Give voters an incentive to toss the clowns. On any ethics violation, Federal spending in the district should be limited to the percentage of voters who voted for the corrupt politician times the average federal spending across all districts. We would get a bonus effect of reduced spending in general.
Sure there are some details to be worked out, but the general idea is workable.