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House ethics scuttle back to the swamp 

Lowdown

This new Republican-run House of Representatives is looking a lot like the old ethics-be-damned House run just a few years ago by the convicted money-launderer, Tom DeLay — only more so.

Back when DeLay was the GOP's corrupt majority leader, he got caught hustling campaign funds from an energy corporation whose legislation he then helped pass. This flagrant cash-for-legislation exchange was so stinky that even DeLay's pals on the ethics committee had to slap his wrist, ruling in 2004 that a Congress critter should not engage in fundraising "that gives even an appearance that donors will receive... special treatment."

Now, fast forward to last year, when the independent investigative arm of the House ethics committee charged two Republicans and one Democrat with DeLay-style money hustles.

Investigators found compelling proof that these powerful members collected checks from Wall Street lobbyists just before voting their way on regulatory reforms. E-mails and other incriminating documents show that one of the eager check collectors even left the Capitol while the House was debating the reforms so he could attend the fundraiser being thrown for him at a lobbyist's home. He then returned to the floor to vote against the reforms, exactly as his grinning Wall Street donors wanted.

The punishment for these miscreants? None. In one of its first acts this year, the "new" ethics committee merrily dropped all charges against their delighted colleagues. In an Alice-in-Wonderland moment, the committee declared on Jan. 26 that there was no connection between the vote and the cash, adding that no "reasonable" person would see even an appearance of impropriety in the exchange.

Excuse me for being unreasonable, but it appears obvious that what the committee has done is to set an ethical standard for this Congress that's even lower than in the dark days of Tom DeLay.

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