Bill proposes ethics classes for Congress

Senators — and congressional staff members from both chambers — are required to attend ethics training. Lawmakers in the House are not.

Two House members, one D and one R, want to change that, and they’ve introduced a bill this week that might as well be called the No Member Can Reasonably Vote Against This Act.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Scott Rigell (R-Va.) simply want their House colleagues to be held to the same standards as everyone else and required to attend annual ethics training classes to keep themselves in check.

“It struck me as odd,” Cicilline said, “that we rely on staff to answer these questions.” For instance, he said, there was some confusion over what he could put on his campaign Facebook page as opposed to his official congressional one. (Though social-media ethics still generally fall into a gray area.)

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, said such training sessions would do a world of good for members who still believe “anything goes.”

“I believe many of the violations we’ve seen of ethics rules really came from a lack of understanding of what the ethics rules are,” Holman said.

In 2007 Congress strengthened those rules, restricting congressional travel and gifts from lobbyists. In March 2008, the House established the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to handle misconduct complaints and refer them to the House Ethics Committee for any further action.

Just since 2009, the number of Ethics Committee actions doubled compared with the entire previous decade. Even so, Holman thinks that the committee is slow to act against rule-breaking colleagues and that the OCE should be given more power.

Training for House members would be a welcome change for a chamber that Holman says “has been notorious for coming up with a weaker set” of ethics rules.

Drafts come in all sizes

Before politicians decide whether to subject themselves to a grueling run for president, eager fans create grass-roots fundraising groups to show there’s widespread support out there for them.

Most famous is the “Ready for Hillary” effort, which raised $2.5 million in three months this spring to build momentum around a Hillary Clinton candidacy. And Tuesday, a “Ready for Warren” group was launched in hopes that liberal fave Sen. ­Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), despite her protests, will run.

But there aren’t as many “Please, Politician X, Run for President” groups as you might think. On the Republican side, there are none (yet) for Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) or former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Nor, on the Democratic side, is there one for Vice President Biden.

But there are several efforts underway — some active, others dormant. We took a look at various Federal Election Commission filings with the word “draft” or “ready” in the committee name to see how they’re doing.

We found “Ready for Christie,” a super PAC created by two Ohio University students hoping that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will seek the GOP nomination. It brought in a paltry $334.93 last year. But its treasurer said activity will commence soon.

An effort to get Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to run in 2016 picked up this quarter. The group raised $170,396.16 from April through June, bringing its entire haul so far this year to $198,052.38. The super PAC’s founder, Raz Shafer, wrote about launching it on the RedState Web site in mid-March.

The National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, which is pushing for the conservative doctor to run, brought in $3.4 million in the second quarter of the year. Its year-to-date contributions total almost $5.8 million. Carson told Parade magazine he would look things over after the November midterm elections.

“Draft Bernie,” hoping progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) will challenge Clinton from the left, raised $3,538.42 from January through March. But the lone donor was Vermont state Rep. Christopher Pearson, who also happens to be the PAC’s treasurer. Pearson told the Loop he raised about $1,000 in small donations in the second quarter of the year. “I’m hoping the third quarter will be more exciting,” he said.

Draft Sarah Palin was created in 2011 for a Palin 2012 run. But it didn’t raise any money. As of the end of March, it still had zero contributions, though it continues to file quarterly reports with the FEC. The PAC’s treasurer is Randy Goodwin, a California Republican behind other “draft” efforts, including one for former Florida congressman ­Allen West, as well as other pro-Republican fundraising groups, which have been called out as disingenuous efforts.

There’s even a PAC to persuade former vice president Al Gore to give it another go, but the group hasn’t raised any money or filed a report since July 2012. It was first created to raise money for the 2000 nominee to run in 2008. As of its last filing two years ago, the group had $74,813 on hand but had zero contributions.

With a deep field of buzzed-about candidates, especially on the Republican bench, we expect many more of these efforts will continue to pop up as 2016 nears. Until then, looks like the battle of the summer is Team Clinton vs. Team Warren.

Pot shots at D.C.

The White House wants Congress to stay out of the District of Columbia’s decision to decriminalize some possession of marijuana.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) added an amendment to an appropriations bill affecting the District’s budget, forbidding the local government to use any federal funds to enact its new pot policies. Harris told The Washington Post that pot is “poison to a teenager’s brain.”

But the Obama administration thinks Congress shouldn’t involve itself in this, and in a statement criticizing the entire Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, it lists the marijuana amendment as one of many reasons the president would veto the bill if it came to his desk (which it won’t, because the Senate won’t pass it as is).

“The Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally-passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of states’ rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department’s enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District,” says the Office of Management and Budget statement released Monday night.

Leaving marijuana rules to the states is in keeping with the administration’s prior actions on the issue. The Justice Department, taking the high road, announced last year that it would not challenge laws legalizing marijuana in two states, Colorado and Washington, even though the drug is still illegal federally.

— With Colby Itkowitz

Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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