Editorial: End the Games

Posted June 9, 2009 at 6:24pm

So, the suspense continues — and so does the damage to the House’s reputation stemming from suspicious connections between campaign funds raised by a now-defunct lobbying firm, the PMA Group, and earmarks secured for its clients by Members of Congress.

The House ethics committee had every chance Tuesday to say whether it was investigating the burgeoning scandal — but it punted, just as the House has in coming to grips with this stain on its image.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct met but failed to announce any action, even on a no-brainer of a resolution referred to it last week that, when passed by the House, will give the panel 45 days to say whether it is conducting an investigation.

What all this amounts to is that the House is treating a serious matter as a procedural game. The ethics committee ought to be investigating PMA, and it ought to say so.

For two years, Roll Call and other newspapers have been reporting on the tens of millions of dollars in earmarks secured for PMA clients by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, and Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), members of the panel.

Over the past decade, those clients have given the three Members $4.8 million in campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

There’s no proof of illegal quid pro quos. That’s what needs to be investigated. But the fact is that PMA’s offices were raided by the FBI earlier this year, after which the firm disbanded.

And Visclosky late last month acknowledged that his Congressional and campaign offices — and some staffers — had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury.

Visclosky’s longtime chief of staff has resigned, and the Congressman has handed off managing a spending bill during the investigation.

For months, Republicans led by Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) have been pushing a privileged resolution calling for an ethics investigation.

This spring, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) advocated passing a version of the resolution in order for Democrats to “get ahead of— the scandal and not be continually embarrassed by it.

But the idea was rebuffed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a longtime ally of Murtha’s, supposedly on the grounds that it would pave the way for partisan use of the ethics process.

As a result of all this, Pelosi — who became Speaker partly because majority Republicans got enmeshed in earmark-related scandals — is allowing “her— House to be similarly tainted.

It’s time to end the games. Instead of passing a silly resolution giving the ethics committee 45 days to say whether it is conducting an investigation, the House should pass a Flake-like resolution instructing the committee to investigate.

Or any Member — Pelosi, Hoyer, Flake, a Republican leader or even one of the three appropriators under suspicion — could file a complaint with ethics. This scandal is a blight on the House, and it deserves to be cleansed either by clearing the three Members or disciplining them.