Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 84° Partly Cloudy

Endorsements and editorials are made solely by the ownership of this newspaper. As is the case at most newspapers across the nation, The Spokesman-Review newsroom and its editors are not a part of this endorsement process. (Learn more.)

Opinion >  Editorial

Ethical swamp wider than House

House Republicans were rightly slapped down for trying to secretly gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, but merely preserving it won’t “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C.

The Senate has rejected such oversight for itself. Meanwhile, President-elect Donald Trump faces myriad conflicts of interest, a subject he says he will address next week. The irony of this week’s tumult is that House members alone face independent inquiries, but they’re now tarred with a charge of being ethically blind and politically tone deaf.

So short-term politics aside, what should an ethical Congress and executive branch look like?

Ideally, officeholders would divest themselves of holdings that would create conflicts as they decide public policy. At the very least, they should reveal those interests and recuse themselves when potential conflicts arise.

Two examples arose this week. John Roberts, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice, recused himself in a patent case because of stock holdings. Rex Tillerson, nominee for secretary of state, cut ties with Exxon Mobil in advance of confirmation hearings.

Disclosure is a must, and this is where Trump runs into trouble. Unlike most presidential candidates, he has declined to divulge his tax returns, which would offer a window into his business dealings. Journalists have pieced together some of his holdings, but Trump has declined to provide a complete picture.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that more than 150 financial institutions hold hundreds of millions of dollars in debt from Trump’s businesses and properties.

Trevor Potter, a general counsel to the presidential campaigns of George H.W. Bush and John McCain, told the Journal, “The problem with any of this debt is if something goes wrong, and if there is a situation where the president is suddenly personally beholden or vulnerable to threats from the lenders.”

One of the debt holders is Wells Fargo, which is under government scrutiny for questionable business practices. Trump, as president, would have the U.S. Justice Department and Security and Exchange Commission underneath him. While the president-elect has said he and his family wouldn’t engage in “new deals,” the circumstances surrounding his finances would remain.

As for the OCE, it was created after corruption scandals sent politicians and lobbyists to prison. During that time, the House Ethics Committee did virtually nothing. On the other hand, the OCE process isn’t perfect. It allows for anonymous tips, meaning the accused can’t face their accusers. Another problem is that the House Ethics Committee often sits on OCE recommendations.

The lack of resolution has stung members of both parties, and it makes any investigation easy campaign fodder. For instance, a report on Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has been in the House Ethics Committee’s hands since 2014. A firm deadline for action is sorely needed.

The issue of OCE reforms will probably arise again, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Senate and the White House are mired in the swamp, too.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.