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Congressional Ethics

A recent poll found that only 25% of American were satisfied with the job Congress is doing for them. Questions over ethics may play a part in that low rating. Just what are the rules that are meant to ensure that elected representatives aren't swayed by constituents or special interests? The House of Representatives own Web site publishes a list of FAQs for its members. Among the most asked questions:
  • A state university in the Member's home state has offered the Member tickets to one of its basketball games. Can the Member accept?
  • A long-time friend of mine who is also a lobbyist has offered me the use of his Ocean City condo for a few days. Can I accept?
  • The Member has been invited to play golf by an acquaintance who belongs to a country club, and under the rules of the country club, the guest of a club member plays without any fee. Since the host will pay nothing, can the Member accept the invitation to play free of charge?
The close ties of many lawmakers with the now disgraced Jack Abramoff has many Americans wondering about Congress' commitment to its own ethics rules. This situation wasn't helped when on November 17, 2004 House members approved a change to party rules which some saw as a strategy designed solely to allow Majority leader Tom DeLay to retain his leadership post even if he were indicted by a Texas grand jury on state political corruption charges. The change was put into effect in January 2005 by the members of the new 109th Congress.

Under the prior rules, if the Ethics Committee's five Republicans and five Democrats deadlocked on whether to begin an investigation, the investigation would automatically go forward. The new rule required a majority vote, which meant at least one member would have had to cross party lines for an ethics investigation to proceed. Critics contended that this cross-over was unlikely and would effectively shield DeLay from investigation. The rules change itself, and a spate of news stories suggesting additional ethics violations by DeLay, led to a backtrack. On April 26, 2005, House Republican leaders rescinded the controversial rule change. Golf trips figure prominently in the Abramoff scandal, but the question of congressional travel is receiving scrutiny on many levels. Explore the ramifications in the Citizens Class. Or explore the Senate and House ethics rules online.

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