A sub-theme of the GOP's 2010 midterm election strategy is that Democrats have become corrupt -- that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plans to "drain the swamp" were just talk.
The ethics woes of Reps. Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel have strengthened the argument, and it's possible another name may be added to the list.
BigGovernment.com -- a site run by conservative Andrew Breitbart, who created a firestorm this summer with his release of a video of Shirley Sherrod that had been edited to make her appear racist -- has obtained audio
ostensibly of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton shaking down an unnamed lobbyist.
While most citizens would probably be shocked to hear even the most ethical political leader asking for money, BigGovernment argues Norton -- Washington's non-voting House member -- may have crossed the line for a variety of reasons, including:
"her frequent mention of her seniority and her Chairmanship of a subcommittee. She is attempting to solicit funds based on her past actions taken in her official capacity in Congress. She is implying to the lobbyist that, should he decline to donate, he will be turning down a senior member of Congress who Chairs a subcommittee highly relevant to his "sector".
. . . Worse than that, she details her role overseeing a large economic development project in the District, funded by 'stimulus' funds. It would appear that either the lobbyist has an interest in this project, or the Congresswoman thinks he does, as she states she is 'frankly surprised' the lobbyist hasn't given to her.
Big Government goes on to note: "Then there are the House Ethics rules, according to House Ethics Manual (2008 Edition)":
p. 147: "[N]o solicitation of a campaign or political contribution may be linked to an action taken or to be taken by a Member ... in his or her official capacity. ... The Standards Committee has long advised Members . . . that they should always exercise caution to avoid even the appearance that solicitations of campaign contributions are connected in any way with an action taken or to be taken in their official capacity. ... [A] Member should not sponsor or participate in any solicitation that offers donors any special access to the Member in the Member's official capacity."
p. 150: "[A] Member may not accept any contribution that is linked with an action that the Member has taken or is being asked to take. A corollary of these rules is that Members . . . are not to take or withhold any official action on the basis of the campaign contributions or support of the involved individuals. . . . Members . . . are likewise prohibited from threatening punitive action on the basis of such considerations."
House ethics rules state that "A Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House shall conduct himself at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House." Also, according to the House Ethics Manual: "A solicitation shall not be linked to an action taken or to be taken by a Member." Since the rule on solicitation only bans quid pro quos for a specific "action taken," Norton's remarks that she's a senior member of a committee would appear not to constitute a "specific action," and may not be considered unethical.
It's also fair to note that nearly all contributions that come from lobbyists go to members who sit on committees of jurisdiction for their clients.
If Delegate Holmes Norton made the call from a House building, or with a House cell phone, then she would have violated House rules, which ban any federal property from being used in making solicitations.
Note: I have left messages on the voice-mail and cellphones of Norton's press representative, and will update if and when I hear back.
Some may scoff at the audio, based on the fact that it came from a site run by Andrew Breitbart. As was noted, he became embroiled in controversy this summer when an edited clip
he ran of Sherrod caused her to be fired from her job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Upon viewing the full tape in context, it became clear that the clip misrepresented Sherrod's statements.
Here's the full transcript of the Norton call:
This is, uh, Eleanor Norton, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Uh, I noticed that you have given to, uh, other colleagues on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. I am a, um, senior member, a 20-year veteran and am chair of the Sub-committee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management. I'm handling the largest economic development project in the United States now, the Homeland Security compound of three buildings being built on the, uh, old St. Elizabeth's hospital site in the District of Columbia along with, uh, 15 other, uh, sites here for, that are part of the stimulus.
I was, frankly, uh, uh, surprised to see that we don't have a record, so far as I can tell, of your having given to me despite my, uh, long and deep, uh, work. In fact, it's been my major work, uh, on the committee and sub-committee. It's been essentially in your sector.
I am, I'm simply candidly calling to ask for a contribution. As the senior member of the, um, committee and a sub-committee chair, we have [chuckles] obligations to raise, uh, funds. And, I think it must have been me who hasn't, frankly, uh, done my homework to ask for a contribution earlier. So I'm trying to make up for it by asking for one now, when we particularly, uh, need, uh, contributions, particularly those of us who have the seniority and chairmanships and are in a position to raise the funds.
I'm asking you to give to Citizens for Eleanor Holmes Norton, PO Box 70626, DC, 20024. I'll send you a follow-up note with appreciation for having heard me out. Thanks again.