Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Clean government, anyone?
As regular readers know, I would love to see newly elected Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer run for President. But that will likely have to wait until 2012 or 2016.
In the meantime Spitzer signed 5 executive orders on his first morning in office, four of which should give him instant fame for his efforts to clean up the executive branch. Based on Danny Hakim's account in the NY Times, here they are—
- prohibited state workers at public agencies and authorities from accepting gifts of more than nominal value and prohibited the use of state property, including vehicles, computers and telephones, for non-official business.... prohibited nepotism in hiring and contracting and barred former state workers from lobbying their former agencies for two years.
- prohibited state workers from donating money to the campaigns of the governor or lieutenant governor, or affiliated political action committees.... barred employment officials from asking job candidates about their party affiliation and barred state officials from appearing in advertisements paid for by state entities.... prohibited commissioners and executive directors of agencies and public authorities from running for public office without first resigning.
- requires all state agencies and authorities to come up with a plan to broadcast their meetings on the Internet, if they are subject to the state’s Open Meetings Law.
- established judicial screening committees to evaluate and recommend judicial candidates for a range of judgeships across the state
Spitzer hopes the executive branch reforms will, by example, light a fire under the state legislature. That may not be enough.
New York has a law known as the Moreland Act that gives the Governor extraordinary powers to investigate. Michael Goodwin writes that "The Moreland Act is to investigations what the nuclear bomb is to weapons." And Goodwin along with a number of other columnists are calling for Spitzer to drop some investigatory bombs on the legislature in Albany.
Columnist Mark Alesse opines—
What goes on in Albany has always been messy, and sometimes inept and even incoherent - but it's never been this appalling.
Governor Spitzer could be as much fun for the New York State legislature as Attorney General Spitzer was for Wall Street.
And what about Congress?
Spitzer's demand for clean government had repercussions even before he took office. While still a candidate he withdrew his support for fellow Democrat and New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who has now resigned and pled guilty to a felony count of defrauding the government. Hevesi used his staff to chauffeur and care for his disabled wife.
This naturally leads to comparisons with a matter in the Congress this week. House Speaker Pelosi's determination to lead "the most honest, the most open and the most ethical Congress in history" is not off to a good start.
Michigan Representative John Conyers has had his own set of personal servants to answer for. The resolution of Conyer's "problem" by the House Ethics Committee has allowed the New York Post to do some righteous editorializing—
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has been licking his chops at the thought of the mischief he can undertake as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee - starting today, when his party assumes control of Congress.
Indeed, he once was speaking openly of an impeachment drive against President Bush - until incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi put the kibosh on it.
But Conyers' credibility as the Democrats' moral watchdog was shredded by the dubious deal he just struck with the House Ethics Committee - which was made public late last Friday in a holiday-weekend bid to avoid publicity.
After a probe lasting more than three years, the committee declared that Conyers has "accepted responsibility" for a series of House rules violations involving the use - and abuse - of his staffers.
According to published reports, Conyers used several staffers as his personal servants - requiring them to babysit and tutor his children, chauffeur him to personal events, help his wife with her law-school classes, work on his campaigns and pay restaurant and motel bills.
Sound familiar? It should.
New York's state comptroller, Alan Hevesi, just lost his job and pleaded guilty to a felony for doing a lot less with taxpayer-funded employees.
But John Conyers isn't losing anything.
Not the chairmanship of the judiciary committee, which Pelosi reiterated last Friday would go to the Michigan congressman despite his transgressions.
Nor is he facing any other kind of sanction from the House.
In fact, he didn't even really admit any wrongdoing - just a "lack of clarity" in explaining to his staffers what they are and aren't required to do.
Whatever that means.
Conyers, by the way, is no congressional novice. He's been a member of the House for no less than 42 years.
But as long as he follows some new procedures, the Ethics Committee declared, "This matter will remain closed and the committee will take no further action on it."
Including making public whether or not the allegations against Conyers are true.
That's a pretty astonishing way to dispose of accusations about practices that labeled "unethical, if not criminal" by one of Conyers' own chiefs of staff - who then resigned, saying she "could not tolerate [them] any longer."
And the fact that the committee's Republicans went along with it speaks volumes as to why the GOP is now in the minority - not to mention the extent of the unseemly mutual back-scratching that permeates Capitol Hill.
The Republicans went along with it because they hope to be treated as kindly in the very near future.
I'm afraid this may mean no real reform in the House of Representatives, where Democrats and Republicans came to an understanding some years ago not to expose each other's crimes. I believe Pelosi really does want honest and open government. But look at the material she has to work with!