Entries in Ethics (6)


Congress Gets Low Ethics Rating as 'Fiscal Cliff' Looms

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Americans rate only car salespeople below Congress in terms of honesty and ethics.

Just one in 10 Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of lawmakers as high or very high, according to a Gallup poll released Monday.  
People ranked nurses at the top of the 22 professions polled, with more than eight in 10 rating them as highly honest and ethical.  Rounding out the top five are pharmacists, medical doctors, engineers and dentists.

Car salespeople rank lowest, joining members of Congress, advertising practitioners, stockbrokers and HMO managers in the bottom five.  Journalists fell in the middle, just below bankers and right above business executives.

While many have never perceived Congress as very honest or ethical, the numbers in this latest poll are especially low.  That may be due in part to the looming "fiscal cliff," which could strike a blow to the fragile economy and send taxes up if Congress fails to act before the Jan. 1 deadline.

The highpoint for lawmakers in the last 15 years was just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in November 2001, according to the poll.  Last year's 7 percent honesty rating for members of Congress was the lowest on record.

While the poll tested only perceived honesty and ethical standards, the results line up with other polls that show the public generally holds politicians in low esteem.  Previous Gallup polls show that people hold generally negative views of the federal government and the job Congress is doing.

The poll results are based on telephone interviews conducted with 1,015 randomly selected adults from Nov. 26-29.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley Combats Allegations of Ethics Violations

US Congress(WASHINGTON) -- After the House Ethics committee decided to move forward its investigation of alleged ethics violations by Rep. Shelley Berkley, the Nevada Democratic maintained a cool composure as she insisted her actions were motivated not by personal gain, but by her responsibility to her constituents.

On Monday, the ethics committee announced it had established an investigative subcommittee to determine whether Berkley, who is running for the U.S. Senate this fall, violated House rules with respect to “alleged communications and activities with or on behalf of entities in which Representative Berkley’s husband had a financial interest.”

While the committee’s deliberations are confidential and private, Berkley freely admits she joined other members of the Nevada delegation to write a letter pushing federal officials not to close a kidney transplant center – the only one in Nevada – even though it was tied to her husband’s nephrology practice.

Berkley, who is married to kidney specialist Dr. Larry Lehrner, also reportedly wrote a letter to a House Ways and Means subcommittee with jurisdiction over Medicare petitioning against lower reimbursement rates for doctors providing dialysis treatments.

The committee will now determine whether those activities violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule regulation, or other applicable standard of conduct.

Berkley maintains that she is “absolutely convinced” that the ethics investigation will only prove that “the only thing I was interested in was patient care.”

“I don’t have ethics problems,” Berkley told reporters at the Capitol Monday evening. “There was no way I was going to sit back and allow a kidney transplant program – the only one in the entire state – to be closed. Two-hundred people were waiting in line for a kidney transplant when they were going to close this, and those 200 people might not have been able to go anyplace else. So I’m pleased with this decision and we’ll move forward from here.”

Berkley, who is serving her seventh term in the House of Representatives, is locked in a tight matchup against Sen. Dean Heller, who took over former Sen. John Ensign’s seat after he resigned in the aftermath of his own scandal in 2011.

Republicans quickly pounced on the news that the ethics committee is continuing its investigation.

“It speaks volumes that even Shelley Berkley’s Democrat colleagues unanimously voted to move forward investigating Berkley’s use of her office to enrich her and her husband,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Jesmer wrote in a statement. “Since Berkley entered the political arena we’ve seen a long pattern of ethical questions surrounding her conduct.  Nevadans deserve someone in the Senate who they can trust to work on their behalf and not someone – like Ms. Berkley – who puts her own financial and political interests first.”

Berkley said she is “pleased” that the ethics investigation is proceeding, and dismissed concern that it could negatively impact her race against Heller.

“I have a tremendous regard for the people that I represent and the people of the state of Nevada. They understand,” she said. “I couldn’t have lived with myself if I had stepped back and that program would have closed. I mean there were 200 people waiting in line for a kidney transplant. What would you tell them? That you don’t, you can’t, you won’t, you shouldn’t? I mean of course, that was my job! That was my job.”

“My job is not to recuse myself,” she continued. “My job is to represent the people of the state of Nevada. They needed me.”

Asked whether she wishes she had handled the situation differently, she said she would have made it clearer that her husband was a kidney specialist.

“I didn’t think anybody didn’t know that my husband was a kidney specialist,” she said. “If I had it to do over again I would be shouting from the rafters that Dr. Larry is a kidney specialist.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Political Corruption: 8 States Earn Failing Grades

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- From pay-to-play politics to dismal campaign disclosure requirements, America’s fifty state governments have been weighed, measured and found wanting when it comes to ethical lawmaking.

Not a single state earned an "A" grade for ethics in the State Integrity Investigation, an analysis of states’ transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms released Monday by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International.

Eight states -- Georgia, Michigan, Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming -- got failing grades. Only five earned "B's":  New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California and Nebraska.

Despite extensive laws limiting campaign donations, lobbyist influence and revolving-door politics, Georgia ranked dead last in the integrity survey. Southern lawmakers in the Peach State are experts at dodging these ethics laws and taking full advantage of the plethora of loopholes, said the analysis, especially when it comes to accepting gifts from state vendors.

From 2007 to 2008 more than 650 Georgia officials “accepted sports tickets, speaking fees, fancy meals and other gratuities,” according to the study. Yet it has been more than a decade since the state fined a vendor for failing to disclose such gifts.

It was much the same story in Michigan, where the report said abysmal election finance transparency or lobbyist spending disclosure requirements have let special interests shovel big money into state elections with little or no oversight or reporting requirements.

And in the rural plains of North Dakota, which has a statewide population of about 684,000, there is a belief that ethics are self-policed because of the neighborly nature of the state’s politics.  The state has no ethics commission, no limits on how much individuals can donate to campaigns and no disclosure requirements for how that campaign cash is spent.

In contrast, the survey said, New Jersey has implemented a take-no-prisoners, iron-fist approach to political integrity. After years of political wheeling and dealing left New Jersey with a dismal reputation for political corruption, recent reforms and strict anti-bribery laws have made it the No. 1 state for political ethics.

But the state still earned a "B" for failures in campaign finance disclosure requirements.

As Heather Taylor, a spokeswoman for the good-government group Citizens Campaign, told the State Integrity Investigation, “There’s still a lot more work to be done.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Senate Ethics Panel Refers John Ensign Case to Justice Dept.

Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Just over a week ago, an apologetic Sen. John Ensign stood on the Senate floor and bid farewell to the chamber one day before his resignation took effect. On Thursday, the Senate Ethics Committee, after a 22-month investigation, referred the Ensign case to the Justice Department for possible criminal charges.

"It is a cautionary tale. It shows that our actions, all of them, have consequences," the panel’s chair Barbara Boxer said in announcing the findings on the Senate floor, a highly unusual move.

"When you are in a position of trust and power, don’t abuse it. Don’t misuse it. Because people can get hurt, very, very hurt," she warned.

Over the course of the "long and difficult" Ethics Committee probe, Boxer said, the panel deposed or interviewed 72 witnesses, issued 32 subpoenas, and reviewed more than half a million documents before reaching its conclusion. The panel's special counsel, Carol Elder Bruce, determined that Ensign's conduct was so "disturbing" that if he had not resigned, the evidence of wrongdoing was "substantial enough" to consider the penalty of expulsion from the Senate, the harshest penalty possible, Boxer noted.

In April, Ensign announced that he would leave office early due to the "continued personal cost" of the fallout from an extramarital affair he had with Cindy Hampton, the wife of his former top aide, Doug Hampton. The affair had occurred while Doug Hampton was employed by the senator.

According to his former Senate colleagues, the Nevada Republican tried to cover up the sex scandal, made false statements to the Federal Election Commission, and violated campaign finance laws. The Senate panel on Thursday referred the case to both Justice and the Federal Election Commission.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Alabama Ethics Reform '75 Percent' Improved

Photo Courtesy - Governor.Alabama.Gov(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) – After the indictment of four Alabama state legislators and three gaming lobbyists last fall, a new package of reforms represent a significant improvement on the state’s old lobbying laws, say observers.

When Alabama Governor Bob Riley called a special session of the state legislature after the October indictments, it was to enact what he hoped would be the toughest ethics laws in the nation.

The resulting package of reforms were passed in December and became law this week. There were enough exceptions added to the package by lawmakers, however, and enough loopholes in the language that the state legislature will have to revisit the issue when it reconvenes in March.

Ellen Miller of the Washington, D.C.-based good government group The Sunlight Foundation said, "You have to start someplace.” "[Alabama] is not leading the way or blazing new paths," Miller added, "but it is a first step."

Hugh Evans, general counsel for the Alabama Ethics Commission, a state regulatory agency with newly expanded powers, said that Alabama is now "at 75 percent of where we want to be."

"When you have so many different entities and influences on a particular bill, I don't think you ever get to 100 percent of where you want to," said Evans. "Everyone offered an amendment and so it was an amalgamation."

Under Alabama's old rules, lobbyists could spend up to $250 a day on an individual legislator without disclosure, or more than $90,000 a year. The lax restrictions led to cozy relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rep. Charles Rangel Found Guilty of Violating House Ethics Rules

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Members of the House ethics committee ruled Tuesday that New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel had violated house rules for improperly fundraising for a community center in his name, failing to disclose more than a half million dollars in assets on financial disclosure forms, and failing to disclose financial arrangements for a villa at the Punta Cana Yacht Club in the Dominican Republic.

Rangel was found guilty on 11 of 13 counts against him.

The ethics committee is expected to meet Thursday afternoon for the sanctions hearing.

Possible sanctions range from expulsion -- considered highly unlikely -- to reprimand, censure or a monetary fine. According to House ethics rules, a reprimand is reserved for a "serious violation;" censure is for "more serious violations."

Legal experts believe that the committee will suggest either a censure or reprimand. Once the committee agrees on the sanction, it will vote to recommend the sanction to the full House for a vote.

If the House votes to censure Rangel, he will have to stand at the "well" of the House chamber to receive a verbal rebuke and reading of the censure resolution by the Speaker of the House.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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