Common Cause statement on Senate Ethics Committee report on former Sen. John Ensign

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  • Dale Eisman

The scathing condemnation of former Sen. John Ensign delivered Thursday by the Senate Ethics Committee should be an invitation to other senators to begin a new era of high ethical standards and tough enforcement.

Ensign, who left office last week rather than face cross-examination on the allegations against him, emerges from the 75-page report commissioned by the committee as reckless, abusive of his office, and possessed of unbounded arrogance. He seemed to believe he could get away with anything.

And why not? The Ensign case was particularly egregious, but the Senate has a long history of winks and nods and foot-dragging when it comes to ethical violations. Ethics Committee staffers learned of problems in Ensign’s office more than three years ago; the senator admitted in June 2009 that he had carried on an affair with his campaign treasurer and that his family had paid $96,000 to her husband – who also happened to be Ensign’s administrative assistant. Despite all that, the case did not come to a head until last month.

“The Senate surely can do better,” said Bob Edgar, Common Cause’s president and CEO. “It made something of a start in releasing the Ensign report and referring the case to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution. Now it should follow the ethical lead of the House of Representatives by creating an independent ethics office, with professional investigators and the authority to develop and pursue leads on senatorial misconduct and to make its findings public.”