Right Is Right, Wrong Is Discretionary

Wednesday, 04 August 2010 14:13 By Dr Wilmer J Leon III, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed | name.

In the wake of the House Ethics Committee formerly charging Charles Rangel (D-NY) with thirteen ethics violations, another member of congress is poised to have an ethics trial in the House. It has been reported by numerous sources that Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) will be charged with improperly intervening with Treasury officials to bail out a bank in which her husband owned at least $250,000 in stock and on whose board he once served.

The congresswoman has denied any wrongdoing and has chosen to go through an ethics trial. According to Politico.com, "Congresswoman Waters has chosen to go through an adjudicatory subcommittee hearing, rather than accept any of the counts from the investigative subcommittee."

Many may see this simply as the Office of Congressional Ethics (OEC) doing its job. The OEC receives information of congressional wrongdoing, investigates, and refers those cases where "probable cause" is found to the House Ethics Committee for formal proceedings and charges. Unfortunately, based upon who is making the initial allegations and who is being formerly investigated, right may be right but wrong appears to be discretionary (or left up to interpretation).

Political watchdog organizations such as the National Legal and Policy Center, the Landmark Legal Foundation, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government have all made requests to the OEC to investigate members of congress for ethics violations. The interesting data point to consider is that of all of the active OEC investigations focus on members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). According to Dr. Ronald Walters, "It is curious ... that in over 30 of the probes the new Office of Congressional Ethics was considering, the only active investigations were on Black Congresspersons." It's not that CBC members Rangel (D-NY), Waters (D-CA), Richardson (D-CA), Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI) and others, have or have not done any thing wrong, only the proceedings will determine that. What is interesting is how the allegations of ethics violations brought against White congressional members such as Reps. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), Alan Mollohan (D-W.VA), Jim Moran (D-VA), Eric Cantor (R-VA), or Senator Jane Harmon (D-CA) have been disposed of differently with the case against Sam Graves (R-MO) being thrown out. Right may be right, but wrong appears to be questionable.

In this so-called "post-racial" America, the same discretion being used by the OEC to actively investigate members of the CBC and not actively investigate white members of congress is playing itself out through out the entire judicial system. According to Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow, "But the Supreme Court has indicated that in policing, race can be used as a factor in discretionary decision making...Studies of racial profiling have shown that police do, in fact, exercise their discretion regarding whom to stop and search." The OEC is exercising its discretion regarding whom to actively investigate and charge and as importantly, not investigate and charge.

So, what do the latest cases of Rangel (D-NY) and Waters (D-CA) (and possibly others) tell us about alleged unethical behavior by members of the CBC compared to their white counterparts? Is their something rotten in the CBC? Not at all. Some members of the CBC may have been involved in questionable behavior like their white counterparts, but the OEC has used its discretion to dispose of the cases of the white members differently.

What does this mean going forward for African Americans and their constituents? The battle for equality continues. This is another example of power, who has it, and how it's used. According to Dr. Walters, "If you have the money of Senator Jane Harmon or the power of (the late) John Murtha, very little will happen to you." Conservatives are using every angle possible to attack the base of the Democratic Party, the African American community. The race-based attack of Mrs. Shirley Sherrod, attacking voter education/registration programs such as ACORN, cartoons depicting the president as a monkey, terrorist, or Hitler are all tied to discrediting and disenfranchising the African American voter.

If Rangel (D-NY), Waters (D-CA), and other members of the CBC are worthy of active investigations and ethics charges then so are white congressional members such as Reps. Cantor (R-VA), Ensign (R-NV), and Senator Jane Harmon (D-CA). Right may be right, but wrong should never be discretionary.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 August 2010 14:14