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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

More Ammunition for the Independent Privacy Party

I started my day reading an MSNBC story, “Senate panel rejects ethics, lobbying watchdog,” by Jeffrey Birnbaum. The rejected proposal was a bipartisan effort to establish independent oversight and enforcement of congressional ethics. Are any of us surprised it was rejected? Senators Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, and Joe Lieberman, Democrat from Connecticut, tried, but it just wasn’t to be. There are nine Republicans on the committee, seven Democrats, and the vote to reject was 11 to 5.

Republican Senator George Voinovich from Ohio, and chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Ethics, remarked that the ethics panel doesn’t need help, “…because it is already doing a thorough job of enforcing the chamber’s rules.” Apparently he hasn’t met or even heard of Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, or “Duke” Cunningham.

A Senator Collins comment, although not in reply to Voinovich, was that hiring professionals to oversee lobbying reports and ethics complaints could improve Congress’ credibility because of the appearance of conflict-of-interest in self-policing. She proceeded to say: “The current system of reviewing lobbyists’ public reports is a joke.” And, folks, she's a Republican.

Another Senator, Democrat Barack Obama from Illinois, also feels an independent body to watch congressional ethics is the only answer. In the Boston Globe’s coverage of this issue, “Senate balks at ethics watchdog agency,” by Rick Klein, he also reports that several senators were concerned about the potential bureaucracy, cost, and duplication of tasks of the ethics committees. In my opinion, if anything at all is done to raise the ethics of Congress, there will be no duplication in what congressional leaders are, or have been, doing.

Senator Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, is afraid of how his opponents would use information from an independent group, and fears that it could not operate at the same level of “secrecy” as House and Senate ethics committees. There’s that favorite Bush/Cheney word again. Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, and the Grand Dame of consumerism, is convinced independence is required for ethics enforcement.

On the other hand, the Senate Rules Committee voted 17-0 to alert the public when a senator has a drink bought by a lobbyist, a piddly bill by Trent Lott they hope will refocus the public’s attention. See “Senate Panel Backs New Ethics Disclosures” on CBS Actually, it means ‘fessin up to meals, booze, and trips they receive at the expense of the strong-arm clique. Maybe I’m missing something, but this sounds like padding legislation with an issue meant to keep the wolf away from the real door: the decidedly crooked members of Congress.

I could go on forever about why an independent party is needed to stem the tide from an unethical and non-responsive Congress. Remember from my last post, 61% of you feel your congressional representatives do not share your priorities. It goes without saying, everyone wants to feel safe in the privacy of their home and with their personal information. This is guaranteed by the 4th Amendment. So, we start there as the basic platform for a privacy party, and branch out to other planks.

Hey! Sounding better all the time, don’t you think?

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