The same congressional panel that launched a preliminary inquiry into Weiner-gate this week has been diddling around with several other Democratic ethics scandals for years. These aren't foxes guarding the henhouse. They're sloths guarding the foxhole.
The House Ethics Committee now is reportedly probing Twitter-holic Democratic New York Rep. Anthony Weiner's possible abuse of government resources while sending pervy messages and photos to young women across the country. The latest batch of Weiner's leaked social-media self-portraits -- more cheesecake than beefcake -- showed him in various states of undress at the congressional gym. From what other public buildings has Ick-arus tweeted his junk? And how much time on the public's dime did his government staff spend coaching Weiner girls to assist with damage control?
Don't expect an answer from the House ethics watchdogs until after Weiner's first child enters kindergarten. The wheels of justice grind more slowly there than a dial-up modem.
Weiner's dirty laundry is just the latest addition to a teeming heap of scandal. To wit: The committee still hasn't issued a final report into last year's reckless Capitol Hill predator du jour, former Democratic New York Rep. Eric Massa. He's the notorious creep who serially groped male staffers and subjected interns to "tickle fights" for months while then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi looked the other way.
Then there's Beltway swamp queen Democratic California Rep. Maxine Waters. Last summer, after a yearlong investigation, the House Ethics Committee charged her with three violations related to her crony intervention on behalf of minority-owned OneUnited Bank in Los Angeles. The panel accused Waters of bringing discredit to the House for using her influence to seek and secure taxpayer-subsidized special favors for the failing financial institution. Her Democratic guardians have successfully delayed a trial for 10 months.
Another California Democrat, Rep. Laura Richardson, has been under the House Ethics microscope since the fall of 2009. She defaulted six times on home loans, left a trail of unpaid bills in her wake and allegedly failed to report required information on her financial disclosure forms while receiving special treatment from a lender. While the panel cleared her of "knowingly" accepting favors, she is reportedly the subject of a second probe into using employees on government time to work on her political campaign.
The panel has also toyed for the past two years with Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s pay-for-play scandal involving charges that he or his staff sought to buy President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. A separate congressional ethics office referred the matter to the House ethics panel after it "learned that staff resources of the representative's Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Ill., offices were used to mount a 'public campaign' to secure the representative's appointment to the U.S. Senate." But Jackson's House ethics probe remains on ice while the feds chase former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was at the center of the scheme and remains on trial.
The House Ethics Committee suffers from dysfunction by design. It is chronically understaffed and underfunded. The panel most recently went without a staff director for four months. Its investigative backlog was compounded by the partisan-charged suspension of two staff attorneys last fall who were knee-deep in the Waters' probe. And the panel's ranking Democratic member, California Rep. Linda Sanchez, is bogged down with her own ethical conflicts of interest.
Sanchez's chief of staff, Adam Brand, is the son of the lawyer handling Waters' ethics defense. That lawyer, Stan Brand, also represented Sanchez and her sister, Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, in a separate ethics case. The sisters engaged in smelly hiring shenanigans after an aide to Loretta embezzled money from the office account in 2006.
Short of funds, Loretta "borrowed" three aides from Linda's staff. House rules ban members from paying people to do work in offices other than their own. Miraculously, Loretta's embezzling aide avoided jail time, and the Sanchez sisters escaped any sanctions for their payroll-sharing collusion. The House ethics opinion on the matter remains confidential.
Intended to boost voters' confidence in Congress (now at an all-time low), the committee's stubborn secrecy and predictable wrist-slap punishments (see "Rangel, Charlie") only make matters worse. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: House-soilers can't be cleaners. Voters, not Washington politicians, are the ultimate ethics committee.