"The American people voted to restore integrity and honesty in Washington, D.C.," Nancy Pelosi declared upon become speaker of the House, "and the Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history." How's that going? To be fair, Pelosi and her New Direction Congress® did adopt some reforms that sounded pretty good. A new House ethics rule, for example, forbade "any link" between campaign contributions and a congressman's official actions. That is quite a bit stricter than the standard for proving bribery, which requires clear evidence of a quid pro quo. But according to a report issued by the House ethics committee last week, "any link" requires more than a juicy earmark immediately followed by a big campaign contribution, or vice versa. Declining to pursue charges against seven representatives accused of buying contributions with taxpayers' money, the committee said, "Simply because a member sponsors an earmark for an entity that also happens to be a campaign contributor does not, on these two facts alone, support a claim that a member's actions are being influenced by campaign contributions." Earmark foe Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) says:
This will embolden members. In essence, unless you're caught on the phone with a lobbyist saying "Contribute or else you don't get an earmark," then you're fine. That's the clear message here.