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An increasing number of House Republicans are getting wrapped up in allegations of ethics violations ahead of the November elections, handing Democrats easy campaign fodder and putting the GOP in an unexpected bind.
Republican leaders in the lower chamber pledged to run an ethically sound ship when they took control last year. But as the second session gets under way, nearly a dozen GOP lawmakers are being questions on a wide array of their financial dealings, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has not publicly admonished them.
“The Speaker has always been clear that the American people expect members of Congress to be held to the highest ethical standards,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, when asked by The Hill whether the Speaker was concerned about ethics questions surrounding the Republicans.
By next Monday the House Ethics Committee is slated to decide whether to formally investigate Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.). Moreover, allegations arose over this past weekend that Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) might have accepted illegal campaign donations, according to The New York Times.
Additionally, there are the three Republicans — Reps. Pete Sessions (Texas), Buck McKeon (Calif.) and Elton Gallegly (Calif.) — who earlier this month were referred to the House Ethics Committee for taking part in Countrywide’s VIP mortgage program, aimed at gaining special favor from lawmakers.
How much Americans hate Congress has become cliché. Congress’s approval rating is at an all-time low, and it’s not hard to see why: the institution is broken. Plenty of structural forces have contributed to Congress’s dysfunction: the increasing flow of money in politics, the emergence of the 24/7 cable news cycle, the increasing polarization of the electorate. But perhaps no single person bears as much responsibility as Newt Gingrich.
“I spent 16 years building a majority in the House for the first time since 1954,” Gingrich said during NBC’s Florida GOP debate Monday night, referring to the Republican takeover of the House in 1994. Over those sixteen years of personal and partisan striving, Gingrich invented or perfected many of the things that Americans dislike most about Congress. “I think I am a transformational figure,” Gingrich said before the 1994 election. “I am trying to effect a change so large that the people who would be hurt by the change, the liberal Democratic machine” will fight it, Gingrich explained.
There is no greater pathology in today’s Congress than obstructionism, from Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) refusal to raise the debt ceiling in July to Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) taking disaster relief funds for Hurricane Irene hostage. Both parties have long used Congress’s procedural rules to promote legislation they favor, but Gingrich created something new. “There is the assumption—pioneered by Newt Gingrich himself, as early as the 1970s—that the minority wins when Congress accomplishes less,” Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the number-two Democrat in the House, explained in a 2009 speech at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. “Gingrich’s proposition, and maybe accurately, was that as long as…our party cooperate[s] with Democrats and get[s] 20 or 30 percent of what we want and they get to say they solved the problem and had a bipartisan bill, there’s no incentive for the American people to change leadership,” Hoyer told the Washington Post after the speech. “To some degree, he was proven right in 1994.”
Now that Stephen Colbert is no longer running for president of the United States of South Carolina, he has taken back control of his super PAC—just in time for today’s deadline to file financial disclosure reports. Colbert announced last night that he would post the paperwork online at midnight, and the New York Times reports that his Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow super PAC has raised a whopping $1,023,121.24. A few boldfaced names are listed as donors, including Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor, and Bradley Whitford, West Wing star.
“We raised it on my show and used it to materially influence the elections—in full accordance with the law. It’s the way our founding fathers would have wanted it, if they had founded corporations instead of just a country,” says a release accompanying the paperwork. It was also accompanied by a letter to the Federal Election Commission reading, in part, “Stephen Colbert, President of ABTT, has asked that I quote him as saying, ‘Yeah! How you like me now, FEC? I’m rolling seven digits deep! I got 99 problems but a non-connected independent-expenditure only committee ain’t one!'”
As is often the case, this is from Americans Against the Tea Party.
“The traditional rationalization about intraparty smears is that it’s too early to dismiss the GOP’s chances; that it’s healthy for the party to battle with mud-flinging; that all this will be forgiven in the heat of August when the party embraces the man who would be king. However, the recklessness of Gingrich’s assault on Romney as Long John Silver, and the ruthlessness of the party’s Romney chorus screeching at Gingrich as the Undead, all this does reinforce doubts already in place with the independent voters, as well as creating a YouTube bonanza of clips for the Obama re-elect ops in Chicago.”