Most complaints of rules violations never reach the stage of a public rebuke. In 2010, the Senate Ethics Committee received 84 complaints of rules violations, began or continued a preliminary inquiry in 12 cases and then dismissed eight of those for lacking merit. In 2009, the committee received 99 notices of alleged Senate rules violations and conducted a preliminary inquiry in 13 cases, eight of which were dismissed. The committee issued one letter of admonition that year, in the matter of Burris.
Though Ensign’s case was a departure from previous enforcement tactics, experts say it could have more to do with the severity of the allegations than a shift in policy.
“It’s easy when a guy has left for them to look tough on the ethics — you’re not doing it with a sitting Senator, you’re not disrupting the body,” said attorney Stephen M. Ryan of McDermott Will & Emery.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.