Congressional Ethics: An Oxymoron
On January 29, 2008, the Ethics Resource Center in Washington, D.C. released a study that found nearly 60 percent of government employees at all levels – federal, state and local – had witnessed violations of ethical standards, policy or laws in their workplace during 2007.The misdeeds included conflicts of interest, abusive behavior, alterations of documents and financial records and lying to employees, vendors or the public. One implication of the study is that the public trust is at stake today and questions have to be raised about why we should give more of our hard earned tax dollars to the very people who abuse their positions of trust. Is it any wonder that the Tea Party movement is thriving and the general frustration of voters with incumbents was so prevalent in the midterm elections?
Why should we trust our Congressional representatives to do the right thing? Time and time again members violate the public trust by their actions. For example, recently Charles Rangel (D-NY) was charged with 13 ethical violations including failing to pay taxes on rental income he received from a Dominican villa. This is revenue that the U.S. Treasury never received and, if the allegations are true, Representative Rangel is guilty of cheating U.S. taxpayers. Then there are conflicts of interest charges such as those leveled against Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) who allegedly used her office to provide assistance to a bank in which her husband owned stock to ask for federal bailout money.The most widespread influence-peddling scandal to date is that of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff who on September 4, 2008, was sentenced to a four-year term in federal prison for mail fraud, conspiracy, and tax-evasion charges stemming from an influence-peddling scandal in Washington, D.C. Lawmakers, lobbyists, Bush administration officials, congressional staffers, and businessmen got caught up in the Abramoff public corruption probe including former Ohio Representative Bob Ney (R-GA) who was sentenced to a 2 1/2 year prison term for taking bribes from Abramoff.
So what does this all mean? Most of us probably would accept, albeit reluctantly, paying higher taxes if we thought our representatives were honest and trustworthy. However, why give more money to a government found to have failed in its undertakings more than it has succeeded. In a recent report issued by Rasmussen, only 16% of voters rate the overall performance of Congress as good or excellent. The telephone survey found that most voters (56%) give Congress poor marks for how it’s doing its job. As for the matter of trust, the cornerstone of public service, an Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll released on September 16, 2010 indicates that 49% said they have little or no confidence in Congress.
But, shouldn’t we support governmental programs with more tax dollars such as those designed to improve our educational system? Well, let’s look at the record. Efforts at all levels of government to improve the educational system in the U.S. and make students more internationally-competitive have failed miserably. We have not been able to raise the test scores of students where, when recently compared to other countries, our students ranked 28th and 24th in mathematics and science, respectively, in an international assessment of 15 year olds. For years we’ve spent more money on educational programs such as Head Start and No Child Left Behind. They haven’t worked. What the government doesn’t seem to understand is it will never be able to spend enough money to make up for the declining work ethic and lack of motivation of far too many young people today. It’s not more money that needs to be thrown at the problem but, instead, we need a sea change in the attitude of society back to the values of hard work and personal responsibility that built this country.