Editorials

Bright light best way to keep congressional hands off strippers, male pages, cash

Former U.S. Rep. Wilbur D. Mills (D-Ark.), stands with Fanne Foxe, infamous exotic dancer who is also known as “The Washington Tidal Basin Bombshell,” after one of her late-night performances on Dec. 2, 1974, in Boston, Mass.
Former U.S. Rep. Wilbur D. Mills (D-Ark.), stands with Fanne Foxe, infamous exotic dancer who is also known as “The Washington Tidal Basin Bombshell,” after one of her late-night performances on Dec. 2, 1974, in Boston, Mass. AP

Our three local Republicans were busy in the opening days of the 115th U.S. Congress, but one of their first priorities was puzzling. How two of them stood on the issue was an even greater mystery.

Kudos to U.S. Rep. Mike Bost for being open about his vote with the majority to halt changes to the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent, non-partisan group of citizens that since 2008 has been charged with investigating ethics complaints against members of Congress. It exists because members of Congress failed to police their own during the Jack Abramoff bribery and other scandals.

But Rep. Rodney Davis declined comment on how he voted on the changes that would bring to heel a congressional watchdog. Same for Rep. John Shimkus, but he did issue a statement that made it pretty clear he thinks the office is more of a watchpuppy.

“Nearly a decade since its creation, complaints received and investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics have resulted in no major disciplinary actions while costing taxpayers over $10 million,” Shimkus wrote.

OK. So let’s reform the office, but than shouldn’t happen with secret votes away from public scrutiny followed by refusing to say how you voted. Beijing and Moscow might govern that way, but we expect public servants to show us how the sausage is made and then explain the ingredients.

Washington is a parallel universe where money, power and sex form a strange brew that has intoxicated members from Wilbur Mills to Jesse Jackson Jr. Shimkus knows better than most, because he was in charge of the House page program and had to clean up the mess in 2006 after the Rep. Mark Foley scandal involving young male pages.

Members of Congress bear watching because they can so easily betray public interest and then use their power to hide their transgressions. Let’s fix the system, but using the tools of an open democracy that include public debate, public scrutiny and public votes.

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