Why am I seeing so much more "mainstream" media coverage of the alleged Tom DeLay ethics scandal than that accorded to a trial involving Sen. Hillary Clinton's former chief fund-raiser? Could it have anything to do with media bias? Perish the thought.
Former Clinton aide David Rosen went on trial in Los Angeles 10 days ago on charges that he filed fake campaign finance reports, and lied about it to federal investigators. Rosen, who raised millions of dollars for Sen. Clinton's 2000 election campaign, has pleaded innocent to three counts of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.
Even though Ms. Clinton ran for the Senate from New York, Rosen organized a star-studded fund-raiser at a 112-acre Southern California estate. Prosecutors charged that he reported "in-kind" contributions of only $400,000 to the FEC when he knew that those contributions exceeded one million dollars. Among the stars attending the glitzy event were Cher, Diana Ross, John Travolta, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck catered the affair.
The gala was underwritten by financier Peter Paul, who pleaded guilty in March to unrelated securities fraud charges, and co-organized by Hollywood's Aaron Tonken, now serving a 63-month prison sentence for defrauding charities of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Surprisingly, little of this sleaze has rubbed off on Sen. Clinton, who had her own ethical problems during the seemingly endless Whitewater scandal. Remember the missing financial documents that mysteriously appeared in the White House library unbeknownst (allegedly) to the former first lady or anyone else?
While much of this goes unreported in the mainstream media, the Washington/New York journalism establishment has gone wild with stories accusing House Majority Leader Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, a Texas Republican, of numerous ethical violations. According to his many detractors, DeLay and his wife have made several foreign trips that were financed by registered lobbyists, which is prohibited by congressional ethics rules. One such trip, a $28,000 junket to London and Scotland in 2000, was charged to a credit card issued to Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist at the center of a federal criminal and tax probe involving his efforts on behalf of Indian casinos (Surprise!).
The Washington Post reported that an Indian tribe and a gambling services company (from Nevada?) made donations to the National Public Policy Research Center to cover most of the expenses for DeLay, his wife and other participants in the London/Scotland trip. Two months later, DeLay voted in favor of the tribe; however, the powerful congressman has denied that his vote was related to the donations. So what else is new?
If Congress suddenly expelled all of its members who have taken trips that were paid for by lobbyists, there wouldn't be anyone left on Capitol Hill. DeLay isn't even among the most prolific travelers in Congress, many of whom are Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. The Post revealed that while DeLay has made 55 flights worth $67,800 on corporate jets since 2001, Sen. Reid has made 38 flights valued at more than $88,000 during the same period. Although they partially reimbursed their corporate sponsors, this practice simply doesn't pass the "smell test" because it implies an obvious conflict of interest.
My point is that politicians from both major parties accept huge campaign donations from wealthy fat-cats and questionable flights on corporate jets. Frankly, I fail to see the ethical difference between taking a lobbyist-financed trip to Europe and falsifying campaign expense reports. I think the same rules should apply equally to both parties, and national media coverage should be even-handed and simply can't abide this type of hypocrisy and political double-standards.
Democrats have rushed to Sen. Clinton's defense, claiming that she knew nothing about the fund-raising shenanigans in her 2000 Senate campaign. But if she's as brilliant as her friends say she is ("The smartest woman in America" etc., etc.), I don't believe a word of it. As for DeLay, his partisans say that his best chance for vindication is to convince a congressional committee that he was unaware of what the lobbyists did. I don't believe that either. When accused of ethical improprieties, most politicians blame someone else, even their own staffers.
For example, when Nevada State Controller Kathy Augustine was impeached for running her reelection campaign out of her Carson City office, her backers blamed disgruntled staffers for making the matter public. For them, it's OK to violate ethics laws in private. And now the Nevada Legislature has compounded the problem by passing a three-strikes-and-you're-out law so that our elected representatives can violate ethical standards three times before they're punished. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Well, I hope federal investigators nail both Sen. Clinton and Rep. DeLay on ethics violations on the theory that politicians of both major parties should play by the same rules and suffer similar consequences when they violate those rules. But don't hold your breath waiting for state and/or federal lawmakers to enact meaningful ethics legislation. They have too much to lose.
n Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.