Leader Blues

Monday, October 16, 2006

EDITORIAL>>Bring them to Arkansas

The swansongs of penitent congressmen caught up in the lobbying and page scandals would make a fine libretto for a modern opera. We need Kurt Weill or Bertolt Brecht to do it justice.

Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., who resigned his seat 10 months ago after pleading guilty to tax evasion and taking more than $2 million in bribes in a conspiracy involving several defense contractors, uttered the most lachrymose farewell.

A ranking member of the Defense Appropriations Committee, Duke had gotten rich with rewards for pulling strings in the Bush administration to get lucrative war contracts for his benefactors. To cut his sentence, he agreed to give up his mansion, suburban Washington condo, his yacht and Rolls Royce.

“The truth is I broke the law, concealed my conduct and disgraced my office,” he said, choking back tears. “I know I will forfeit my reputation, my worldly possessions and, most importantly, the trust of my friends and family.” And he added: “I’m almost 65-years-old and I enter the twilight of my life. I intend to use the remaining time that God grants me to make amends, and I will.”

Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, resigned in the face of indictments, but he has not so far been remorseful like his acolytes. But he has not yet been convicted either. Jack Abramoff, the lobbying kingpin who was DeLay’s private-world accomplice in the K Street enterprise, uttered the necessary remorseful words upon his guilty plea, but they were prosaic.
Yesterday, it was the turn of Rep. Robert W. Ney, R-Ohio, who after a year of insisting that he was cleaner than a hound’s tooth, pled guilty to bribery. He admitted performing official acts as a congressman in exchange for campaign contributions for himself and other Republicans, pricey meals, luxury travel and sports tickets for himself and his staff. He also accepted thousands of dollars in gambling chips from an international businessman for his intervention with the Bush State Department.

Ney was not only a key friend of Abramoff and other K Street agents but a favorite of DeLay, who made him chairman of the House Administration Committee. In what has become a ritual, Ney partly blamed alcoholism and checked into a treatment center.

Two weeks ago, Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., who is being investigated for harassing House pages for sex, resigned and went into alcohol rehabilitation. Foley yanked the Doric columns as he left the Capitol and the House is crashing around the leadership, who looked the other way during years of depredations.

But we like Ney’s departure better than the rest because he offered a cautionary sermon for all his fellow members of Congress and for public servants everywhere. It would not be a bad message for Arkansas lawmakers in the opening ceremonies of every legislative session.

“I never acted to enrich myself or get things I shouldn’t,” Ney said, “but over time I allowed myself to get too comfortable with the way things have been done in Washington for too long. I accepted things I shouldn’t have accepted with the result that Jack Abramoff used my name to advance his own secret schemes of fraud and theft in ways I could never have imagined.”

Remember a year ago when Republicans as well as Democrats resolved to reform Congress to stop the influence peddling and the soft bribery of quid-pro-quo campaign gifts?

They never did. When the Abramoff investigation reaches the end of its string and all the malefactors resign or are defeated or else manage to save their hides with voters, Congress will still be no different.

Neither will the Arkansas Legislature, at least without duress. (We do not mean to pick on the ledge. Gov. Huckabee has been no better — no, he’s worse — at shunning luxurious gifts.) The federal judge sentencing Ney should add more leniency if he will testify at state legislatures for meaningful ethics laws, starting at Little Rock in January.