Topic: Government & Politics

Too Dumb to Be Ethics Dunces

The conservative Republicans who have decided to circle the wagons around House Majority Leader Tom DeLay as he battles allegations of ethical misconduct are so ethically obtuse that the Scoreboard’s “Ethics Dunce” category doesn’t do them justice. “Ethics Imbeciles” is closer to the mark, but even that unflattering term only hints at the unique combination of ethical obtuseness and lack of common sense that explains their current behavior.

The fact that more and more ethically questionable conduct is being attributed to DeLay should not surprise anyone, especially Republicans, who know him best. The latest involve taking foreign junkets paid for by lobbyists (DeLay’s response, right out of “The Sleazy Public Servant’s Handbook,” Chapter I: “I didn’t know!”) and paying his relatives over a half million dollars for their work on his behalf (his response to that one: “I’m not the only one who does it!”), but never mind: many more are on the way. DeLay, to be blunt, regards ethics as nothing but hurdles to jump in the pursuit of political objectives, and this has been his modus operandi from the beginning of his government career. Some allegations that surface may turn out to be exaggerated or even false, but there is undoubtedly a bountiful supply of real ethical atrocities with The Hammer’s fingerprints all over them, just waiting to slither to the surface.

Maybe he’ll be indicted soon, in Texas, for his shady fundraising, or maybe he’ll duck that one until another illicit scheme trips him up. DeLay isn’t changing, you see; he can’t. Just as it was inevitable from the early 1950s that Richard Nixon was going to do himself in, because he had no ethical compass; and just as it was crystal clear before he was elected President that Bill Clinton would wreck his administration with some kind of scandal because he regards all principles as negotiable; so it is written that Tom DeLay is going down. A dunce could see it.

Some conservative Republicans don’t.

So, the news reports say, they are preparing to defend DeLay. Their strategy is familiar…so familiar, in fact, that it would tip off smarter people that it is doomed to fail. Claim that the allegations are just partisan attempts at “personal destruction” (and never mind the fact that DeLay’s misconduct has already been condemned by the House Ethics Committee multiple times, and is very real, serious, and ongoing.) Point out that many of the things he is being criticized for are legal (irrelevant to the little matter of whether they are fair, honest, or right…this is part of the Enron defense, and you know how well that has been working…). Name names of other politicians who have done the same things (that well-known moralist Larry Flynt …he of Hustler Magazine… adopted this classy approach to defend President Clinton).

Most of all, their strategy dictates that they treat the attack on DeLay as an attack on conservative Republicans generally. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and an outspoken social conservative, said that conservatives need to remind the public that DeLay is a target because he is the leader of a larger movement. “He is in the cross hairs in large part because of his effectiveness,” Perkins said. “It’s a typical strategy: Take out the leader, and other people scatter.” Rep. Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), DeLay’s deputy whip, says that Democrats can’t “accept the Republican majority in Congress, and see this majority leader as one that they can’t beat at the polls and now have taken to a planned attack of personal destruction.”

“It is not stopping at Tom DeLay, and Tom DeLay is not the issue,” Cantor explains. “It is much larger than that, and it’s about the majority that they’re after. They didn’t win in November and in fact had a setback. So it is do or die for them.”

So, to summarize, these conservatives have a leader who has again and again shown himself prone to abuse power and use unethical measures to achieve his…and admittedly, their…goals. The media is on to him; even conservative publications and columnists (like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times columnist David Brooks) find his tactics despicable. The public as a whole, outside of his own Congressional district and those who are red meat conservatives, find his humorless, dead-eyed zealotry and assaultive rhetoric unpleasant and occasionally scary.

The conservatives’ reaction to this state of affairs? Why, make sure DeLay becomes the face of their whole movement. Tie themselves to an anchor, strap themselves to a bomb. And do this even as he is straining Constitutional principles with strident rhetorical attacks on an independent judiciary. Who thought up this plan?

On the slim chance that some of these pathetically misguided DeLay defenders are reading this, The Scoreboard will lay out…in veeeery simple, easy to read terms, the top 10 reasons why the only ethical and logical thing for them to do is to take the initiative and get Tom DeLay out of the Republican leadership and, ideally, out of Congress as quickly as possible.

Here they are…

  1. Tom DeLay is chronically and incurably unethical.
  2. The fact that other elected officials may do or have done some of the same unethical practices is not a defense. They should be stopped too, but we’re not talking about them.
  3. The fact that some of DeLay’s maneuvers are technically legal does not justify or excuse the fact that his conduct has almost certainly violated the first four provisions of the House Ethics Rules, and that he has habitually violated the first, ninth, and tenth provisions of the ethics rules pertaining to all government officials. [See below] These aren’t laws. Ethics aren’t laws.
  4. A group’s ethical attitudes are inevitably influenced by its leader.
  5. A group that embraces an unethical leader will ultimately be corrupted by him (or her) if he or she stays leader long enough.
  6. People will judge a group by its leaders.
  7. Having a leader widely regarded as unethical will reflect badly on the group he (or she) leads, and inevitably erode its prestige, power, and support.
  8. That a group’s adversaries will look for and exploit misdeeds by the group’s leaders does not excuse the misdeeds themselves or make them tolerable.
  9. As a general rule, honest and ethical leaders give their adversaries little or nothing to find and exploit

    And most important of all….
  10. A group that does not have the requisite sense, principals, values and courage to remove an unethical leader is doomed to fail, and deserves to fail.

That’s as clear as we can make it. It should be obvious anyway, but don’t forget, we’re not dealing with dunces here.

The official code of conduct for member of the U.S. House of Representatives as enforced by the House Ethics Committee.


There is hereby established by and for the House of Representatives the following code of conduct, to be known as the “Code of Official Conduct”:

1. A Member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall conduct himself at all times in a manner which shall reflect creditably on the House of Representatives.

2. A Member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall adhere to the spirit and the letter of the Rules of the House of Representatives and to the rules of duly constituted committees thereof.

3. A Member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall receive no compensation nor shall he permit any compensation to accrue to his beneficial interest from any source, the receipt of which would occur by virtue of influence improperly exerted from his position in the Congress.

4. A Member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall not accept gifts except as provided by the provisions of rule LI (Gift Rule).

5. A Member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall accept no honorarium for a speech, writing for publication, or other similar activity.

6. A Member of the House of Representatives shall keep his campaign funds separate from his personal funds. A Member shall convert no campaign funds to personal use in excess of reimbursement for legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures and shall expend no funds from his campaign account not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes.

7. A Member of the House of Representatives shall treat as campaign contributions all proceeds from testimonial dinners or other fund raising events.

8. A Member or officer of the House of Representatives shall retain no one under his payroll authority who does not perform official duties commensurate with the compensation received in the offices of the employing authority. In the case of committee employees who work under the direct supervision of a Member other than a chairman, the chairman may require that such Member affirm in writing that the employees have complied with the preceding sentence (subject to clause 6 of rule XI) as evidence of the chairman’s compliance with this clause and with clause 6 of rule XI.

9. A Member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall not discharge or refuse to hire any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex (including marital or parental status), handicap, age, or national origin, but may take into consideration the domicile or political affiliation of such individual.

10. A Member of the House of Representatives who has been convicted by a court of record for the commission of a crime for which a sentence of two or more years’ imprisonment may be imposed should refrain from participation in the business of each committee of which he is a member and should refrain from voting on any question at a meeting of the House, or of the Committee of the Whole House, unless or until judicial or executive proceedings result in reinstatement of the presumption of his innocence or until he is reelected to the House after the date of such conviction.

11. A Member of the House of Representatives shall not authorize or otherwise allow a non-House individual, group, or organization to use the words “Congress of the United States”, “House of Representatives”, or “Official Business”, or any combination of words thereof, on any letterhead or envelope.

12. (a) Except as provided by paragraph (b), any employee of the House of Representatives who is required to file a report pursuant to rule XLIV shall refrain from participating personally and substantially as an employee of the House of Representatives in any contact with any agency of the executive or judicial branch of Government with respect to nonlegislative matters affecting any nongovernmental person in which the employee has a significant financial interest. (b) Paragraph (a) shall not apply if an employee first advises his employing authority of his significant financial interest and obtains from his employing authority a written waiver stating that the participation of the employee is necessary. A copy of each such waiver shall be filed with the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

13. Before any Member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives may have access to classified information, the following oath (or affirmation) shall be executed: 

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will not disclose any classified information received in the course of my service with the House of Representatives, except as authorized by the House of Representatives or in accordance with its Rules.”

Copies of the executed oath shall be retained by the Clerk of the House as part of the records of the House.

As used in this Code of Official Conduct of the House of Representatives-(a) the terms “Member” and “Member of the House of Representatives” include the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico and each Delegate to the House; and (b) the term “officer or employee of the House of Representatives” means any individual whose compensation is disbursed by the Clerk of the House of Representatives.


Any person in Government service should: 

1. Put loyalty to the highest moral principals and to country above loyalty to Government persons, party, or department.

2. Uphold the Constitution, laws, and legal regulations of the United States and of all governments therein and never be a party to their evasion.

3. Give a full day’s labor for a full day’s pay; giving to the performance of his duties his earnest effort and best thought.

4. Seek to find and employ more efficient and economical ways of getting tasks accomplished.

5. Never discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone, whether for remuneration or not; and never accept for himself or his family, favors or benefits under circumstances which might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of his governmental duties.

6. Make no private promises of any kind binding upon the duties of office, since a Government employee has no private word which can be binding on public duty.

7. Engage in no business with the Government, either directly or indirectly which is inconsistent with the conscientious performance of his governmental duties.

8. Never use any information coming to him confidentially in the performance of governmental duties as a means for making private profit.

9. Expose corruption wherever discovered.

10. Uphold these principles, ever conscious that public office is a public trust.

[Source: U.S. House of Representatives Ethics Committee]


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