September 10, 2010

Click here to read the original posting on The Huffington Post.

Senator Ensign and the Land of Opposites

By Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of CREW

Years ago, George Costanza of Seinfeld fame educated us all about life in the land of opposites. Up was down, black was white, good was bad. George reached this epiphany by “completely ignoring every urge towards common sense and good judgment” he ever had. Clearly John Ensign, the junior senator from Nevada, looks to George as something of a mentor.

Earlier this month, in a moment of unbelievable candor mixed with bravado, the ethically challenged Mr. Ensign uttered one of the more jaw dropping lines in recent political memory:

“If you don’t hold us accountable, we’ll do some real bad things in Washington, D.C.”

Think about that for a second. According to Senator Ensign, our elected leaders are not required to hold themselves accountable for their actions; rather, that task falls to the voters. Unfortunately many Washington politicians operate with a sense of entitlement that needs to be reined in, but it is particularly ironic that it is Senator Ensign who shared this truth with us. After all, he needs only to look in the mirror to see a politician totally incapable of taking responsibility for his conduct.

A little more than a year ago, Senator Ensign stepped up to a microphone in Sin City, and admitted to an extended affair with a campaign staffer, who happened to be married to his chief of staff, Doug Hampton. Ultimately, he fired them both and had his parents pay the couple off without properly reporting it to the Federal Election Commission. He then conspired with Mr. Hampton to help him set up a lobbying business to lobby the senator’s own office in blatant violation of federal law.

Not surprisingly, rather than holding himself accountable, Senator Ensign blames other people for his actions. Somehow in his land of opposites, he found a way to claim my organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is responsible for his troubles. He then had the gall to beg for money to fight the big bad liberals supposedly out to get him.

To be clear, the case against Senator Ensign has nothing to do with his politics, and everything to do with the fact that he’s corrupt. CREW has a proven track record as a nonpartisan organization. Each year, we publish a list of the most corrupt politicians in Washington, and every year we are equal opportunity antagonists. Of the 15 members of Congress included on last year’s list, there are eight Democrats and seven Republicans. CREW does not care whether a politician is red or blue — or for that matter — black or white; we target politicians of all stripes who fail to meet the high ethical standards Americans have the right to expect from our elected leaders.

Over the years, we have named 55 politicians, Senator Ensign included, to the most corrupt list. Their misdeeds run the gambit, from abusing their office for personal gain (Rep. Nathan Deal) to soliciting a prostitute (Senator David Vitter). Thankfully, more than half of these hucksters are safely out of office, but Senators Vitter and Ensign, as well as 24 others remain. (Mr. Deal resigned his seat and now – despite an ongoing federal criminal investigation — is the Republican nominee to be Governor of Georgia).

Amazingly, the House of Representatives has only expelled two people since the Civil War, one of whom, James Traficant (D-OH) is now running to reclaim his old seat. Meanwhile on the other side of the Hill, the Senate hasn’t expelled anyone since it tossed out 11 members for their support of the Confederacy (though Sen. Bob Packwood (R-OR) resigned following a sexual harassment scandal rather than face expulsion – perhaps offering a roadmap for Sen. Ensign). The Constitution provides that each House of Congress police its own members, but anyone who has been paying attention knows that members do little but pay lip service to the notion of ethics enforcement.

Americans cannot sit idly by as self-righteous politicians tell us it is our duty to keep them honest. Like the rest of us, they are responsible for their own conduct. Life in the land of opposites must be blissful for Senator Ensign, but here in the real world, there should be no place for him in the United States Senate.