Ney plea, House vote on earmarks clearly show Congress is out of touch

The following is a statement by Common Cause President Chellie Pingree on the guilty plea by Rep. Robert Ney on federal charges related to his dealings with Jack Abramoff:

Today’s guilty plea by Rep. Robert Ney, R-OH, on fraud and conspiracy charges in the corruption probe surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff is another convincing sign that the House of Representatives does not care to police itself when it comes to ethical wrongdoing by its own members.

The House has had numerous opportunities to strengthen its ethics process, both before and after the scandals surrounding Abramoff. Yet as members of both parties have become entangled in ethics problems in recent years, the body that proudly calls itself “The People’s House” has further shackled the already-weak function of the House Ethics Committee and refused to change the system in which only members sit in judgment of other members’ ethical problems.

Through this year, the 109th Congress rejected suggested ethics improvements arising from the Abramoff scandal, including bans on privately funded travel, improved lobbyist disclosure and stronger “revolving door” restrictions to curb the influence of high-ranking congressional staff entering the private sector.

Any of these reforms could have gone a long way toward reducing the influence of lobbyists and helping the American public regain badly needed faith in Congress.

Instead, the 109th Congress has only seen fit to ban former members from lobbying former colleagues on the House floor and in the House gym. After months of promising a “bold package of reform,” the House voted only yesterday to improve disclosure on earmarks in appropriations bills – which will last only for the next few weeks Congress is in session.

The juxtaposition between Rep. Ney’s admission and the House attempting to address widespread corruption through so-called “earmark reform” could not be more stunning.

In a little more than seven weeks, American voters will choose the members of the 110th Congress. Along with Iraq, the economy, the administration’s performance on fighting terrorism and other issues, voters should seriously consider the House’s failure to police corruption as a key issue in deciding their next representatives in Washington.