Monday, March 26, 2012

Ethics Violations Racially Single out African Americans In Congress Disparately

Is it possible that the manner in which the congress polices itself is racist and singularly targets African American members disparately when compared to whites? Many in the Congressional Black caucus think so. To date nearly a third of current African American lawmakers in congress have been named in an ethics probe during their careers, according to research compiled by the National Journal review.

The question is why so many African-American members have been in the ethics violations and so few of any other races on Capitol Hill? Several reasons have been proposed. One is that African American politicians are being unfairly scrutinized. It has also been advanced that since many hold what are considered “safe” seats in congress, that they become too comfortable and forget to follow the ever changing standards for ethics in Washington. Last, it is speculated that another reason is due to a process that depends on outside information from watchdog groups like the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative watchdog group, who have their own agendas. Regardless the fact remains that African-Americans make up 10 percent of the House, but currently, five of the sitting six named lawmakers under review by the House Ethics Committee are African Americans.

At one period in 2009, seven lawmakers were known to be involved in formal House ethics inquiries; all were members of the Congressional Black Caucus. An eighth caucus member, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, had also been under investigation, but his probe was held up temporarily when the Justice Department started an inquiry of its own.

Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr., a Missouri Democrat whose father was a founder of the black caucus, compared the secretive House Ethics Committee, and the newer Office of Congressional Ethics to an out of control police department. "Look at the fact that African-Americans make up about 12.5 percent of the total national population, but we are much higher in the percentages in prisons and on parole and under criminal investigation, and all that."

To date, just two members of Congress have been formally charged with ethics violations in recent years and have had to deal with public trials -- Reps. Charles Rangel of New York (censured) and Maxine Waters of California (investigation ongoing) and ironically they are both African Americans. There are no African-Americans in the Senate but the last one who was reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee in 2009 was Roland Burris of Illinois.

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