Any hope of a major overhaul in congressional ethics rules will likely run into one large insurmountable obstacle: Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Just this week, the Senate Ethics Committee, showing once again that it is a virtual oxymoron with a tin ear, found that Reid had not violated Senate rules when he accepted front row boxing seats on three separate occasions from the Nevada State agency, that was publicly opposing Reid’s pending bill to create a federal agency with oversight over boxing. The tickets were valued at between $1400 and $2000 each. Nice perk.
While for some inexplicable reason, gifts from State and local governments are permitted, the Senate Ethics manual specifically states:
"Senate and Senate staff should be wary of accepting any gift where it appears that the gift is motivated by a desire to regard, influence, or elicit favorable official action…"
The rules also caution about the impropriety of accepting repeated gifts from the same source. At the time, the Nevada Athletic Commission made no secret of its goal to reverse Reid’s position on federal regulation, which would seriously undermine its authority over boxing in Nevada. When Reid’s freeloading was discovered, he righteously claimed that he was simply trying to understand how an important agency in his home state operated.
It took him three times to figure this out? And always in front row seats at championship boxing matches? Are we supposed to believe that by watching boxing matches from the choicest and most expensive seats, Reid would somehow — presumably by osmosis — understand why federal regulation of the sport was necessary?
Two other Senators who joined Reid at the matches took the high road. Senator John McCain personally paid $1400 for the tickets to just one of the events in 2004, which is exactly what Reid should have done. When Reid was questioned about the discrepancy between his view and McCain’s, he actually claimed that McCain had to pay because he was from another state.
Is there a geographical basis for ethics requirements? Not surprisingly, Reid ultimately retreated from this bizarre view. Nevada’s other Senator, John Ensign, attended the matches, but refused himself from any consideration of legislation on the issue. But Reid insisted on the freebies and made it clear that he was a player in the game that concerned the state agency.
Now the Ethics Committee has agreed with Reid. That shows you how seriously it takes ethical lapses — not at all. From Reid’s point of view, there’s no need for change — everything is fine as it is. Free tickets are part of the perk of being a Senator in his view.
The boxing binge wasn’t Reid’s only problem. Three of his sons have been lobbyists or lawyers for the biggest government and commercial interests in Nevada. His son-in-law still represents many of those lucrative clients in Washington. According to the Los Angeles Times in 2003: “Harry Reid is in a class by himself…” when it comes to family members cashing in on their ability to influence a family member.
Reid’s sons and son-in-law, Steve Barringer collected millions by representing Nevada interests — from municipalities and gaming companies to the Howard Hughes Company. Although Reid now insists that he won’t allow lobbyist family members into his office, don’t look to him for support any ban on family lobbying.
Reid was also on the edges of the biggest ethical scandal to hit Congress — the Jack Abramoff matter. Although Reid hypocritically derided the Republicans because of the Abramoff scandal, he was actively involved in promoting the agenda of Abramoff’s clients and simultaneously benefited from their largesse. One of his key aides joined the Abramoff firm and then routinely contacted Reid on behalf of the tribal gaming interests. Reid helped out by writing to federal agencies on more than four occasions to intervene on their behalf. At the same time, money was raised for Reid, who over $68,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff’s constellation of donors from his business, lobbyists, and clients.
So, look for business as usual in the ethical reform area — the Democratic leader in the Senate will make sure that nothing changes.
Dick Morris served as Bill Clinton's political consultant for twenty years, guiding him to a successful reelection in 1996. He is the author of New York Times bestsellers Because He Could, Rewriting History (both with Eileen McGann), Off with Their Heads, and Behind the Oval Office, and the Washington Post bestseller Power Plays.
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Dick Morris is a Fox News contributor and author. His latest book is "Here Come the Black Helicopters: UN Global Governance and the Loss of Freedom." Visit his website: www.dickmorris.com and follow him on Twitter@DickMorrisTweet. Click here to sign up to get all of Dick's videos emailed to you.