Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark

This famous line, delivered by Marcellus in Act I and Scene IV of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, could just as easily describe the United States Congress.

As most Save Jerseyans know, Rep. Rob Andrews is being investigated by both the House Ethics Committee and the Federal Election Commission for possible unethical use of campaign funds for personal purposes.

Ignoring the public outcry as well as the simple facts of the case, Andrews has fallen back on his favorite line every time he has been accused of misappropriating donor’s dollars. In a prepared statement, Andrews asserted “the record will show I have followed all rules and met all standards of the House.”

However, a House panel, which began its review in April, recently received a report on Andrews’ spending practices from the six-member board of the Office of Congressional Ethics. That report, made public one week ago, said “there is a substantial reason” to believe Andrews spent political contributions for personal use “in violation of House rules and federal law.”

The report also noted that Andrews “refused to provide requested documents relating to his congressional campaign and Leadership PAC calendars” and that he provided credit-card statements “only after making significant redactions.”

My purpose is not to prove or disprove the allegations against Congressman Andrews. I long ago drew my own factual conclusions based on hours and hours of independent research, and I trust that the full House will do likewise.

On the contrary, the bone I mean to pick today is with the process itself.

Four years ago, my campaign disclosed that Mr. Andrews had steered more than $2 million in federal earmarks to his wife’s department at Rutgers School of Law. Faced with the facts, Rob did not deny having done so. Instead, he simply reported that the House Ethics Committee had reviewed and signed off on the legality of the earmarks.

Legally, he was right. Morally and ethically, he couldn’t have been more wrong.

When a member of Congress can hide behind rules written and a ruling issued by his fellow members – most of whom are steering similar questionable earmarks back to their home districts – something is seriously amiss. Or should I say “rotten in the city of Washington”?

It’s like asking the fox to guard the proverbial henhouse.

Capitol Hill is full of lawyers – too many for my liking – who have managed to establish rules and enact laws that hold them accountable to no one other than themselves.

That is wrong. That is unethical. And that needs to change.

Because until it does, people like Rob Andrews will continue to hide behind the very rules they had a hand in writing.


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