The ethics committee story is a long one, which I'll summarize. The republicans saw how the last ethics committee got tied up with investigations that never ended, because if half the committee (divided evenly between dems and reps) wouldn't vote to dismiss, the case continued. This allowed dems to charge that republicans were "under investigation" when in fact all the investigating was done, nothing was found, but the dems simply wouldn't vote on it.
So they republicans put together common-sense changes meant to ensure the process would continue, so a house member wouldn't be caught in limbo.
In response, the democrats refused to meet. They said they really wanted to have the ethics committee running, but they simply could not accept the rules. So the republicans took the unprecedented step of re-opening the rules, and voting to put them back to the way they were, simply to get the committee meeting.
Because while the committee was frozen, the democrats could keep making baseless charges, and there was no way to clear someone through the committee. Plus, there were several democrats who had pending complaints but until the committee met they couldn't be formally filed.
But then, after insisting that the rules change would fix things, the democrats moved the bar. They still have not allowed the committee to meet.
So, while the democrats are claiming that the house is as corrupt as ever, they have prevented the one committee which could to something about it from meeting for over a year.
Now we find that the Democrat leader on the ethics panel is under investigation for a series of questionable actions, including earmarks for charity organizations tied to donors to his campaign, and an amazing rise in his personal fortune over the past 5 years. A formal complaint has been filed against Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV). Among the charges:
For the period 1996 through 2004, NLPC found that the Financial Disclosure Reports:
• repeatedly failed to disclose real estate assets which public records showed were owned by Mollohan and his wife
• repeatedly failed to disclose financial assets which public records showed were owned by Mollohan and his wife
• repeatedly failed to disclose major loans which were used in the acquisition of financial assets which were not being disclosed
• failed to disclose interests in companies which owned major assets
• grossly undervalued assets, giving purported valuations which were a small fraction of the assets’ true value
They further note a remarkable change in his financial situation:
NLPC’s investigation began when its review of the Financial Disclosure Reports of House Appropriations Committee members showed a sharp increase in Rep. Mollohan’s assets from 2000 to 2004. A closer examination revealed that Mollohan and his wife had more than $2,000,000 in real estate investments with a former staffer, Laura Kuhns, and her husband. Kuhns ran a nonprofit, Vandalia Heritage Foundation, which had received more than $28 million in appropriations earmarks with Mollohan’s help from 2000 through 2005. She was also on the board of other nonprofit groups which had received over $100 million in earmarks of federal funds during the same period with Mollohan’s help.
Mollohan’s 2000 Financial Disclosure Report listed his income-producing assets as being worth from $179,012 to $562,000 with liabilities of $170,000 to $465,000. Among the liabilities was Visa credit card debt listed as $45,003 to $150,000.
Just four years later, Mollohan’s 2004 Financial Disclosure Report showed him with assets worth $6,313,025 to $24,947,000 offset by liabilities in the $3,665,011 to $13,500,000 range. It also showed him owning an oceanfront beach house on Bald Head Island, NC which was valued at $1,000,000 to $5,000,000. NLPC found that Mollohan was renting the beach house during the summer of 2005 for $11,975 a week.
They summarize the problem:
“The real issue here is not whether Mollohan systematically was hiding financial and real estate assets and grossly misrepresenting their value. He was. The real issue is why he was hiding those assets. Mollohan is the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct – popularly known as the ethics committee. He has served on that committee, which has jurisdiction over the filing of Financial Disclosure Reports, for 9 years (1985 to 1991 and then 2003 to present). No one in the House has more familiarity with the disclosure laws than he does. Any kind of excuse that he did not know how to fill out his financial disclosure reports – for a 9 year period – does not pass the straight face test.”
“The bottom line is Mollohan got very wealthy in a four year period. His account of his finances during this period is demonstrably false. The fact that he earmarked well over $100 million in tax dollars to groups associated with his business partner is about as big a red flag as one can imagine.”
The Republicans have called for him to step down pending the outcome of the investigation.
Now, he has not been found guilty of anything. But to contrast, Tom DeLay, who according to the democrats is the epitome of the culture of corruption, has next to NO assets listed on his disclosure form.
Here's Mollohan's Disclosure Forms
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will have none of it. In a prepared release, she said:
"Speaker Hastert and his Republican cohorts are responsible for the most corrupt Congress in history and the American people are paying the price at the gas pump, at the pharmacy, and with record high deficits.
"Republicans destroyed the ethics process in the House to protect their cronies Cunningham, DeLay, Ney, and other Members implicated in the Abramoff scandal - to name only a few.
But given that Cunningham is in jail, and DeLay is resigning, it's hard to take her claims seriously that the republicans are "protecting" anyone. Instead, it is increasingly clear that the democrats are protecting members of their own party in order to try to sell the false notion that corruption is a uniquely republican invention.
Oh, and there's more. According to Roll Call:
Rep. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.), the top Democrat on the House ethics committee, has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and gifts to a family foundation from MZM Inc. and another firm that did business with MZM.
That's the same MZM involved in the Duke Cunningham scandal.
Which might explain why the democrats are blocking the ethics committee meetings, and why the watchdog group that first exposted Cunningham could not get a single democrat to file an ethics complaint about the activities that led to his conviction.
The ethics committee system in the house is broken -- by democrats who want to use ethics as an issue in the campaign, rather than actually DO anything about it.