Sunday, February 3, 2013

American politics - absence of ethics

It often seems like an ongoing and continuous story - not quite corruption but close. It is politics as usual that our national leaders are not connected to their constituency in any meaningful way except possibly by some alleged ethnic alliance.

This time it is Democratic Senator Menendez, and therein lies the rub in today's politics. Any allegations or charges are inevitably dismissed because it is right wing versus left wing, conservative versus liberal, etc. And given his surname, one cannot avoid a racial or some ethnic defense. For the supporters of those accused it is never about the alleged  conduct - it is dismissed as a racial or political attack from some extreme part of the opposite political party.

In the case at hand, Senator Menendez (New Jersey) is being investigated concerning financial violations of senate rules and there has been allegations of using prostitutes. So far the latter allegations appear to have little substance. There has been a FBI search involved of the offices of the senator's donor linked with the financial violations, but it is not clear the purpose of the search and the connection, if any, to the senator. There is some smoke, but is there fire?

The senator is the incoming Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations vacated by Senator Kerry's appointment to Secretary of State. It is an important post. The ethics investigation came about because the senator's financial relationship with one of his donors, however not a constituent. It may well be that any ethical violation may be one-off.

However, CNN's article Home state newspaper casts doubt on Menendez during scandal has decent coverage of the allegations. See too Senator Menendez Under Fire As He Takes Up Senate Foreign Relations Gavel. One of the allegations is whether the senator used "his position on the Foreign Affairs Committee to advocate for his friend's [not a constituent] business interests?" The "friend" is his wealthy donor.

And there is the allegation about the plane trips to the Dominican Republic. The issue is about the receipt of "gifts." It appears that the senator may have accepted "free" rides on the donor's private plane in violation of rules of ethics. However, it does appear that the senator "paid" for most of the trips.

What is getting the attention is that for two of the trips he "took in 2010 but didn't pay for until January 4 of this year - a gap that his spokeswoman, Patricia Enright, described as an "oversight."  These two trips were apparently valued at $58,500 as paid from his personal funds. Was the delay merely an oversight?

No one should expect that our representatives in Congress will be squeaky clean, but being forthright is rightly demanded. CNN: "An editorial in the Newark-based Star-Ledger said the accusations raised "serious doubts about his fitness to serve as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee" and argued he "needs to break his silence and explain himself."

And no one should be surprised that Harry Reid expresses ‘confidence’ Sen. Menendez ‘did nothing wrong.’ Senator Reid has walked that fine line of ethical violations. See More Trouble For Harry Reid | Judicial Watch.

Why can't the elected representatives take that trip to Washington and carry out their promises and representations as well as the needs of their constituents without the apparent need, maybe addiction, to enrich themselves. Why can't they represent the electorate and not their "community" of friends and donors?

But in fairness to Senator Menendez his Wikipedia entry gives the appearance of a politician that earned his way in politics, i.e., he is not a well-connected politico. Maybe his case is one of the appearance of impropriety. But in many situations that is more important than the conduct itself.