Meaningful ethics reform: a pipedream?

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Harpers today has an interesting look at “The Perks of Being a Disgraced Member of Congress” and, specifically, Congressman Rick Renzi. For those of you who haven’t heard, it was rumored last week that the Arizona Republican is contemplating resignation, following a raid on his wife’s business. He’s also under investigation. What would you do under the circumstances:

Logically speaking, one would expect a congressman to relinquish his seat under such circumstances. But Renzi says he intends to tough it out—and he’d be a fool not to. That’s because the common folk must pay lawyers out of their own pockets or turn for help to a public defender, but members of Congress can use campaign funds to hire a dream team of defense attorneys. As of March 31, Renzi has only $80,561 on hand. Given his legal predicament, he’ll burn through that in a couple of months. From a fiscal (if not moral) standpoint, he’d be wise to stick around and see what other funds he can raise.

He’d be in good (relatively speaking) company. During the first quarter of this year, seven current and former members of Congress (six Republicans and one Democrat) used their campaign treasuries to pay legal defense bills.

This just screams at the need for some actual ethics reform (as well as meaningful campaign finance reform). Setting aside the large donors to many of these Senators and Representatives, I know ordinary Americans have given money in support of these campaigns. That money shouldn’t be used to pay legal fee when they have to defend themselves following an investigation.

Harpers has more.

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