Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Other Side Does It Too

Ethics: A social, religious, or civil code of behavior considered correct, especially that of a particular group, profession, or individual.

Consequence: something that happens as the result of a particular action or set of conditions.

Ethics issues and politics go together. Money and power corrupt. This is nothing new. What’s newer is our growing willingness to accept it, cry that both sides do it, and continue on with our political cynicism.

Famous ethics violators who are Democrats: Rep. Charlie Rangel of NY is a one-man personal finance disaster. Rep. Max Baucus nominated his girlfriend for a job in the Justice Department.   Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich went to prison for a variety of colorful offenses. Ohio Congressman James Traficant (of the large and defiant toupee) went to prison for taking bribes, racketeering, and filing false tax returns. Sen. Robert Menendez of NY has been investigated for taking improper gifts and taking action to benefit donors.

Famous ethics violators who are Republicans: Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois complained that he was too broke to pay child support, while loaning money to his Congressional campaign. Rep. Darrell Issa of California broke federal disclosure laws when he inserted information from a sealed wiretap application into the Congressional Record. Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois resigned in March after we learned that he used taxpayer money to fund lavish trips. He’s the one who redecorated his Congressional office to look like Downton Abbey. Tennessee Rep. Marcia Blackburn has had problems with reporting campaign contributions and expenditures.

Other famous GOP ethics violators include: President Richard Nixon, President Ronald Reagan, and President George W. Bush.
There are seldom consequences for those who flout the law. None of the Republicans on my list spent time in prison. Only two resigned. Schock was in Congress long enough to get a pension. Nixon got his pension too.

On a local level, State Representative Gene Chandler had an ethics problem about 10 years ago, when it was discovered that he wasn’t reporting funds raised at his annual corn roast, when donors like RJ Reynolds were making contributions.  Chandler used this fund to pay for his living expenses, claiming he thought that was allowed. He also claimed he didn’t know he was supposed to report the fund, despite having been instructed to do so a couple of times by Speaker Donna Sytek. Former Carroll County Republican Chairman Maynard Thomson stepped down from his position just as the NH Attorney General’s office sent him a letter informing him that he’d violated the law with his improperly filed campaign expenditure reports. Thomson acknowledged that he’d done a sloppy job of reporting, but blamed the Democrats for reporting him. After all, someone with his (self-touted) superior intellect shouldn’t be expected to perform the same menial tasks that the peasants do. He’s busy! He’s important! Personal responsibility doesn’t apply to Republicans!

Our own NH Congressman Frank Guinta has a BIG ethics problem. The FEC released their report on Frank, wherein they found (in a rare 6-0 unanimous finding) that Frank lied about his magic bank account. The only support Frank has these days comes from the O’Brien wing of the NH GOP, where ethics are…how you say….fluid. Frank’s still digging himself in, claiming it was really his money, despite the fact that his name wasn’t on the account, the checks written by his mother had “LOAN” written on the memo line, and he has been able to produce no paperwork to prove he ever put anything into the account. Despite ongoing calls for his resignation, Frank has steadfastly refused. Given that he has to pay back his parents and pay the FEC fine, he can’t afford to resign. He’s also stated his intent to run again in 2016. Primary candidates are giving Frank a wide berth, not wanting his presence at their events, his endorsement, or anything to do with him.

Former State Rep. Fran Wendelboe came to Frank’s defense last week in the Concord Monitor. Her defense began with, “But Hillary.” She also went off into the land of how Republicans always take the high moral ground. We’ve certainly seen a lot of that recently, what with Josh Duggar and Dennis Hastert. When the best defense any politico has is “the other side does it, too” – you are not taking any kind of high ground. Taking the high ground is cleaning up your own side of the street, and holding your own folks accountable for their unethical and illegal behavior.

Former NH State Representative Maureen Mann recently modeled ethical behavior for us. She had a young man named Carl Gibson volunteering on her campaign during the special election in Rockingham Dist. 32. About a week into his work on her social media sites, he was fired. A month and a half later, he sent out a bogus press release claiming that the Republican candidate had dropped out of the race. When the NHGOP started their predictable cycle of wailing, Maureen joined them in calling for an investigation, saying that attempts to manipulate elections should not be tolerated. That didn’t stop the NHGOP for blaming her for his actions, even though she’d fired him over a month earlier. There is much to be suspicious in this act of deliberate sabotage, but I suspect we’ll never know if Mr. Gibson was paid to perform it or by whom.  

Our investigative bodies are either underfunded or inept. Investigations seldom involve consequences. Frank Guinta stood in front of television cameras last fall and called Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter a liar for saying there was an open FEC investigation into his campaign finances. We now know that it was Frank who was lying. He’s never apologized to our former Congresswoman. As is so often the case - there are no consequences for lying. We don’t seem to expect our politicians to behave ethically any more, and are far too willing to accept the mantra of “the other side does it too,” as some sort of justification.

The acceptance of ethical violations leads to cynicism, which leads to more voters failing to participate in our elections.

Will we have the courage to start cleaning up and expecting better?

The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home. – Confucious

This was published as an op-ed in the June 12, 2015 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

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