What happened to the 'most ethical and honest Congress in history'?
By JOHN FUND
Lobbyists all over Washington are privately complaining about getting undue pressure to contribute to House Democrats, who are frantically dialing for dollars to save their House majority. One of those insiders has now made available a fascinating tape showing how at least one member may be stepping over ethical lines in securing money.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi started the unseemly treasure hunt in August when she and other top leaders wrote members saying: "We need to know your commitment is to maintaining a strong Democratic majority now" and pleading with them to call "to let us know what you are able to do and when." Chris Van Hollen, the head of the party's House campaign committee, has written members asking each to raise $30,000 for the committee. Other members have been told privately that their chances of getting or keeping plum committee assignments partly hinge on their ability to bring money in.
BigGovernment.com has opened a window on some of the fundraising tactics being used. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate representing Washington D.C. in the House, called a lobbyist earlier this month and, after not reaching him, left a revealing voice mail. Her voice message notes that the lobbyist had contributed to other members of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee that Ms. Norton is a senior member of and drops hints that she has the power to give or deny favors. "We particularly, uh, need, uh, contributions, particularly those of us who have the seniority and chairmanships and are in a position to raise the funds," she tells the lobbyist.
She then details her role overseeing a large economic development project in Washington D.C. that was financed by stimulus bill spending. Ms. Norton apparently believes the lobbyist has an interest in the project and says she is "frankly surprised" that he hasn't contributed to her in the past.
Ms. Norton's office didn't respond to several requests for comment yesterday, leaving open the question of whether she crossed ethical lines that prohibit members from linking contributions to the performance of their official duties. At least one House member I spoke with says Ms. Norton is in clear violation of House rules and should be hauled up before the Ethics Committee.
The sleazy scramble for cash initiated by Speaker Pelosi is a far cry from her pledge to run the "most ethical and honest Congress in history" when Democrats won control in 2006. Just last February, when asked at a news conference about that quote, she interrupted a reporter and said "And we are."
Thankfully, voters will have the final say this November on whether or not they believe the accuracy of that statement.