The House ethics committee is currently investigating seven African-American lawmakers — more than 15 percent of the total in the House. And an eighth black member, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), would be under investigation if the Justice Department hadn’t asked the committee to stand down. Not a single white lawmaker is currently the subject of a full-scale ethics committee probe.
The ethics committee declined to respond to questions about the racial disparity, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus are wary of talking about it on the record. But privately, some black members are outraged — and see in the numbers a worrisome trend in the actions of ethics watchdogs on and off Capitol Hill.
African-American politicians have long complained that they’re treated unfairly when ethical issues arise. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are still fuming over Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to oust then-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from the House Ways and Means Committee in 2006, and some have argued that race plays a role in the ongoing efforts to remove Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) from his chairmanship of that committee.
A CBC member said black lawmakers are “easy targets” for ethics watchdog groups because they have less money — both personally and in their campaign accounts — to defend themselves than do their white colleagues. Campaign funds can be used to pay members’ legal bills.
The nation’s only black senator, Roland Burris of Illinois, is currently under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. It’s not clear whether that committee is currently investigating any white members, although Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is likely to be in its sights if the Justice Department doesn’t pre-empt a committee investigation.
Title: Racial Disparity: All Active Ethics Probes Focus On Black Lawmakers
Source: Politico, Capital News Company, 11/3/2009
Author: John Bresnahan
Student Researcher: Anne Cozza
Faculty Evaluator: Peter PhillipsSonoma State University