Statement by Nick Nyhart, Executive Director, Public Campaign, Calling On Speaker Hastert to Appoint an Outside counsel

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Let me put this in a way that former wrestling coach and current Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert will understand: On top of everything else that has happened, with the news that the House Ethics Committee chair, Doc Hastings failed to disclose travel paid for by a corporation whose employees were his top source of campaign money, it’s clear that the ethics committee has about as much credibility these days as the recent “Wrestlemania 21 Goes to Hollywood.”

In a word, it has none.

In a national survey last month, just 23% of Americans felt that Congress sees the nation’s problems the same way as they do. Congress’s approval rating has sunk to the same historic levels we saw back in 1993 during the House banking scandal.

That’s because we have another widespread scandal on our hands today – the House lobbying scandal, in which wealthy individuals and corporate interests curry favor with members of Congress with donations and free luxury golfing trips.

Unfortunately, the Speaker is keeping his head in the sand and pretending the House lobbying scandal doesn’t exist. Just yesterday, in advance of actually receiving our letter the Speaker’s spokesperson said they’d leave resolution of this matter to the chairman of the Ethics Committee.

We’d say to the Speaker that the Chairman of the Ethics Committee is on shaky ground as an ethics leader. Chairman Doc Hastings of Washington State failed to disclose that, last year, Washington Group International, his top source of campaign cash last election cycle, paid for a $3,170 trip to Stuart Island, British Columbia. Hastings supported the corporation in its efforts to land a lucrative government contract at the Hanford nuclear waste site in his district and the company’s PAC and its employees gave him $10,200.

On top of that, Chairman Hastings, along with every other Republican on the committee, has received campaign contributions from Tom DeLay’s ARMPAC. In fact, two members of the committee have already recused themselves because they contributed to DeLay’s legal defense fund. If giving to support a defendant’s legal defense disqualifies you, doesn’t receiving money from the defendant?

We are focused on an outside counsel for DeLay today, but the catalogue of money-in-politics scandals embroiling Congress is long and the storyline is the sadly similar. Wealthy interests and lobbyists give campaign contributions and personal favors including golf trips, lodging on yachts, and overseas travel to member of Congress. Member of Congress rewards donors and lobbyists with legislative favors and access to the inside track on government contract. And they do it without fear or worry of getting caught because the Ethics Committee is effectively shut down. After they get it running, it’ll be stacked in favor of powerful House leaders. And Americans will only see Congress going on with business as usual.

And this, on the eve of the Fourth of July.

It’s a sad statement about the current state of our democracy and Speaker Hastert ought to be ashamed.