NY Times, Wash. Post ignored Democratic support for key ethics reform

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

In reporting that the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs rejected a proposal to create an independent Office of Public Integrity to investigate ethics violations by members of Congress, March 3 articles by The New York Times and The Washington Post ignored Democratic support on the committee for the measure. In fact, more Democrats on the committee voted for the proposal than against it, while only one Republican supported it.

In reporting that the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs rejected -- by a vote of 11-5 -- a proposal to create an independent Office of Public Integrity to investigate ethics violations by members of Congress, March 3 articles by The New York Times and The Washington Post ignored Democratic support on the committee for the measure. Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg noted only that despite strong support for the proposal from committee chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and ranking member Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), support for the measure was "scant," and named only Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) -- a non-committee member -- as another senator who backed the proposal. Post staff writer Jeffrey H. Birnbaum reported simply that "Democrats joined Republicans in killing the measure." In fact, more Democrats on the committee voted for the proposal than against it, while of the nine Republicans on the committee, Collins was the only one to support it.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has 16 members -- nine Republicans and seven Democrats. As The Hill newspaper reported on March 3, "Eleven committee members, including three Democrats, voted for an amendment offered by Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), chairman of the Select Committee on Ethics, jettisoning the provision for the office." Therefore, four Democrats on the committee -- including Lieberman -- voted to establish the Office of Public Integrity, while Collins was the only Republican to do so.

The omission of Democratic support by the Times and the Post is particularly glaring, given that the bill owes its existence to Democrats. The bill was introduced by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), and its only two co-sponsors are Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and former Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

From Stolberg's March 3 Times report:

Senators backed away Thursday from expansive lobbying law changes for the second time this week, overwhelmingly voting down a proposal to create an independent office to investigate ethics abuses in Congress.

The plan for a new Office of Public Integrity was rejected, 11 to 5, by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

[...]

The measure was struck down despite the strong backing of the committee's chairwoman, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and its senior Democrat, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut. Support was so scant during the debate that as the discussion drew to a close, Senator Collins issued a half-joking plea for help.

"If there are any members of the committee who think there's some possibility that Senator Lieberman and I are right," Ms. Collins said, "I would love to hear them speak."

Instead, the panel adopted legislation that would strengthen disclosure rules for lobbyists, requiring them to report their activities more frequently and to do so electronically, in a format that could be easily searched by the news media and the public.

[...]

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who has been spearheading the bipartisan effort on lobbying law changes, said he would push for the full Senate to adopt the proposal for an independent ethics office. He complained that his colleagues had voted against the plan "because it puts teeth into things."

But opponents of the new office, including the Republican chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio, said it would duplicate what that committee is already doing. "There is no need to reinvent the wheel," Mr. Voinovich said.

From Birnbaum's March 3 Post article:

A Senate committee yesterday rejected a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent office to oversee the enforcement of congressional ethics and lobbying laws, signaling a reluctance in Congress to beef up the enforcement of its rules on lobbying.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs voted 11 to 5 to defeat a proposal by its chairman, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and its ranking Democrat, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), that would have created an office of public integrity to toughen enforcement and combat the loss of reputation Congress has suffered after the guilty plea in January of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Democrats joined Republicans in killing the measure.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post, The New York Times
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