Yes, the voice appears to be that of Eleanor Holmes Norton, though we don't know the person on the other end.
On the latest expose audio tape
supplied by BigGovernment.com, someone is heard -- with reticence, slight embarrassment and unmistakable resolve – mentioning her position and seniority on a congressional committee and subcommittee while soliciting money from someone who is alleged to be a lobbyist.
This is the site run by conservative activist Andrew Breitbart, who earlier this summer got into trouble for circulating a heavily edited and misleading videotape of Shirley Sherrod. In response to being the latest woman under scrutiny, Norton, the nonvoting House member from the District of Columbia who overwhelmingly won
her Tuesday primary, told Politico
that requesting campaign contributions from lobbyists is completely above board and "standard." Her campaign said Breitbart is "best known for his misinformation concerning Shirley Sherrod" and is "trying to mislead again."
Though it may be a mix-up or a misunderstanding, it doesn't look good. On the tape, Norton notes that colleagues on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have already received donations. "I'm handling the largest economic development project in the United States now," she says. "I'm simply candidly calling to ask for a contribution." She then helpfully supplies an address.
The call could be examined to see if it breaks House ethics rules, and could not come at a worse time for Democrats trying to maintain their majority in the House and Senate in November midterm elections. Ethics violations by Republicans helped get Democrats elected in the last two election cycles when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to "drain the swamp."
Since then, Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California – like Norton, members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- have been the targets of ethics investigations
. But those who see some sort of conspiracy against Democrats or CBC members forget that Nancy Pelosi backed the formation of the Office of Congressional Ethics in 2008, which has drawn fire from the unlikely pair of House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). Reps. Eric Massa
(D-N.Y.) and Mark Souder
(R-Ind.) – hardly CBC members -- resigned this year after ethical troubles. And, of course, the problems of Sen. John Ensign
(R-Nev.) are still being untangled.
Just as ethics violations have hit both parties, outreach to lobbyist cash is obviously not limited to party or race. Politico today reported
: "Top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are preparing for a GOP takeover -- by meeting with dozens of energy and telecom lobbyists." The Center for Public Integrity
, a nonpartisan investigative site, gives a rundown of the interests and industries contributing to Republican and Democratic leaders.
The problem may be a system where campaign costs run into tens of millions of dollars, and the latest electoral darlings are multimillionaires with unlimited personal resources. (For gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman of California, it's $119 million
But when I read a quote like this one, last month on Politico
, from a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, speaking on the condition of anonymity, that when it comes to investigations, there's a "dual standard -- one for most members and one for African-Americans," I think, even if it's true, so what?
Why supply ammunition if you think someone's out to get you? If there's one thing that years ensconced in Washington's political culture will no longer obscure, it's that politics as usual won't work in 2010. People are mad and they want accountability, a politician's every word and action will be dissected under a microscope, and an over-the-transom tape will eventually find its way to a cable channel, radio station or partisan political Web site near you.
Some things you can see coming.