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Lawmakers Fear New Ethics Rule

March 16, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Today is the deadline, as set forth by David Obey (D-WI) for members of the House to submit their earmark requests to the Appropriations Committee. However, some lawmakers suddenly have cold feet. They are stumped by a new rule which requires that they sign off on their requests, certifying that neither they nor their spouse has a “financial interest” in it.

The new rule was passed in the first 100 hours of legislative business as part of the House ethics package. But, according to Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) (pictured at right), the Ethics Committee failed to offer further guidance and clarification as to what exactly constitutes “financial interest.”

Lawmakers also want to know exactly what constitutes a request for an earmark. From looking at e-mails like this, one might think that the process of requesting an earmark is fairly official and clear cut. But, the fact that this question is arising suggests that there is more informality and wheeling and dealing in the process than what we know.

It is important for the exact definitions of rules like this to be made clear. Intentions could be misconstrued and lawmakers would be left defenseless. However, it is hard to keep from wondering if some of the hesitation is caused by the requirement of lawmakers’ certification. If it was discovered that a lawmaker was benefiting financially from an earmark of theirs, they would then be guilty of outright deception, rather than simply trying to slip one by.

Here is an excerpt of a letter (via the Politico) that Boehner sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) yesterday:

>"The failure of the ethics committee to provide essential guidance to Members in a timely manner has placed Members seeking to advocate for much needed funds in a dangerous and untenable position," Boehner wrote. “I hope you will agree with me that this situation is completely unacceptable, and will take whatever steps are necessary to rectify it.”

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  • Anonymous 03/16/2007 1:51pm

    This does seem like a poorly thought-out piece of legislation. Afterall, if a congress-person owns property in their home state, wouldn’t any money ear-marked for improving the state economy essentially increase the value of that property? Feel good bills like this are a bad idea.

  • Anonymous 03/21/2007 6:05am

    The bill is a good idea, but clarification, if not already provided in the actual bill text, is needed. I think gaining any directly attributable commercial benefit from bills you sponsor is a pretty clear conflict of interest and our reps ought to be up front about it anyway. Eric’s economy/property-based example is so general that it is even beyond a “six degrees of separation” kind of range — and as such, not worth considering in this matter. It is great that they are talking about this, because it is a step in the right direction. Besides, each lawmaker knows in their heart whether they would benefit financially from appropriations they sponsor. Some self-honesty and integrity would be a good thing to practice. Not how much one can get away with…

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