Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ethics Puts Conyers on Double Secret Probation

'I did nothing wrong, and I promise to stop,' is essentially the promise from incoming Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, who allegedly required his staff to do personal work and campaign work on the taxpayer dime.

The ethics inquiry began in December, 2003 when former staff members complained to the ethics panel, formerly named the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct, that Conyers had required his official staffers to work on campaigns, babysit his children, and run personal errands. Conyers subsequently hired Stanley Brand, a well-respected defense lawyer with a long track record of defending public officials implicated in corruption cases.

In 2003, Reps. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) headed the ethics committee.

The Hill reported last March that two former Conyers’ aides alleged that he repeatedly violated House ethics rules by requiring aides to work on local and state campaigns, and babysit and chauffeur his children. Deanna Maher, a former deputy chief of staff in the Detroit office, and Sydney Rooks, a former legal counsel in his district office, shared numerous letters, memos, e-mails, handwritten notes and expense reports with The Hill...

Hastings and Berman said in their statement that Conyers provided information and documents to the panel. Committee staff also interviewed witnesses. They also said that Conyers agreed to take six steps to ensure that the matter remain closed. First, he agreed to prohibit his personal congressional staff, other than his chief of staff, from engaging in any voluntary campaign-related work in the 110th Congress unless that staff members takes a leave of absence and obtains prior approval from the wthics Committee.

He also must take several additional steps to make it abundantly clear to his government-paid aides that they need not work on campaigns to gain employment or stay employed in his office. In addition, he will have to maintain a detailed time-keeping system that he implemented during the course of the committee’s inquiry.

"Provided that the above requirements are complied with, this matter will remain closed, and the Committee will take no further action on it," Hastings and Berman said.

Conyers is of course, livid at the unethical behavior of the Bush administration, and has loudly advocated impeachment proceedings. The conditions laid out by the Ethics Committee and agreed to by Conyers sure make it sound like everyone knows that Conyers' staff was expected to do this illegal work, but no one wants to embarrass the new Chairman. From the Committee's statement and findings:

...In the course of providing information to the Committee, Representative Conyers acknowledged what he characterized as a "lack of clarity" [more likely an excess of clarity - the Editor] in his communications with staff members regarding their official duties and responsibilities, and accepted responsibility for his actions.

Representative Conyers also provided the Committee with documents indicating that he had begun taking steps to provide clearer guidance to staff regarding the requirement that campaign work and official work be separate. After reviewing the information gathered during the inquiry, and in light of Representative Conyers’ cooperation with the inquiry, we have concluded that this matter should be resolved through the issuance of this public statement and the agreement by Representative Conyers to take a number of additional, significant steps to ensure that his office complies with all rules and standards regarding campaign and personal work by congressional staff. Representative Conyers has agreed to the following conditions:

1. Prohibiting his personal congressional staff (other than his Chief of Staff) from performing any campaign-related work, including work done on a voluntary basis, during the 110th Congress, unless the staff member takes a paid position on his campaign while on leave without pay status and obtains prior written approval from the Committee.

2. Informing staff members in writing of the prohibition set forth above against the voluntary performance of campaign work.

3. Distributing a memorandum to each member of his personal congressional staff which clearly sets forth all House rules concerning (1) the performance of campaign and other non-official work by congressional staff members and (2) the prohibition against the performance of any campaign-related work being conducted in either his congressional or district offices. Additionally, this memorandum will explicitly state that the performance of campaign or other non-official work by staff members may not be required as a condition of their employment.

4. Directing that meetings of his personal congressional staff be held annually in which the House rules concerning staff participation in campaign activities are discussed and explained. In addition, a description of these rules will be made a part of the orientation for all new staff employees.

5. Continuing to maintain the detailed time-keeping system initiated by Rep. Conyers during the course of the Committee’s inquiry.

6. Requiring that all members of his congressionalstaff attend a briefing conducted by Committee counsel on the application of, and compliance with, applicable House rules concerning the performance of campaign and other non-official work by congressional staff members.

Provided that the above requirements are complied with, this matter will remain closed, and the Committee will take no further action on it.

Perhaps I had the wrong movie. Conyers' defense seems more like 'what we have here is a failure to communicate.' (And note - no word on the turkeys).

Another black eye for the most ethical Congress in American history - and before they meet for the first time. And yet another reason that Republicans should be pushing for an outside ethics process, so that Members are no longer judged by their colleagues, but by actual impartial outsiders. If elected officials could no longer count on protection rather than punishment, they might actually clean up their act.

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