Washington Babylon — March 1, 2010, 10:10 am

Defining Deviancy Down

Over the past month or so, the Supreme Court, Congress, and government agencies have taken a number of steps that, collectively, “define deviancy down” (in the words of one Washington observer) by lowering ethical standards to the point where they are either meaningless or unenforceable.

The Citizens United case has already been widely discussed here and elsewhere. In it, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects buying access to elected officials. “Ingratiation and access are not corruption,” the Court said.

Then the House Ethics Committee ruled that members of Congress can statutorily direct government agencies to give federal money to their campaign contributors in the form of earmarks as long as they can provide a legitimate reason for spending the money. That standard is useless — every earmark request can be rationalized by the member of Congress who gets it as being for a company in his or her district, and that it will create jobs.

Meanwhile, Congressman Charles Rangel is getting his wrist slapped for taking two corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean. “Speaker Pelosi’s pledge to ‘drain the swamp’ has to be regarded as an abject failure,” said my source, who asked to speak off the record. “If she really wanted to drain the swamp she could force Charlie Rangel to step down as chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee (he clearly lied under oath to House Ethics Committee investigators) and change the Rules of the House of Representatives to prevent members from accepting campaign contributions from entities to whom they earmark funds.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Election Commission last week released a notice of proposed rule-making that would essentially gut the existing tough ethical standards and replace them with significantly less rigorous ones.

The bureaucratic language makes it hard to understand the significance, but, basically, the existing regulations strictly prohibit FEC commissioners from creating the appearance of giving unfavorable treatment to any person or organization for partisan or political reasons. That standard would be significantly weakened under the new proposed rule.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2014

Stop Hillary!

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

How the Islamic State was Won

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Cage Wars

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Everyday Grace

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"What Hillary will deliver, then, is more of the same. And that shouldn’t surprise us."
Photograph by Joe Raedle
Article
Cage Wars·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"In the 1970s, “Chickens’ Lib” was a handful of women in flower-print dresses holding signs, but in the past decade farm hens have become almost a national preoccupation."
Photograph by Adam Dickerson/Big Dutchman USA, courtesy Vande Bunte Farms
Article
Paradise Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Suffering Sappho! Here we still are, marching right into yet another century with our glass ceilings, unequal pay, unresolved work and child-care balance, and still marrying, forever marrying, men."
Illustration by Anthony Lister
Article
Off the Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Nearly half the reservation lives below the poverty line, with unemployment as high as 60 percent, little to no infrastructure, few entitlements, a safety net that never was, no industry to speak of, and a housing crisis that has been dire not for five years but since the reservation’s founding in 1855."
Illustration by Stan Fellows
Post
Introducing the November 2014 Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Doug Henwood on stopping Hillary Clinton, fighters and potential recruits discuss the rise of the Islamic State, the inevitability of factory farming, and more

Cover photo by Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Chances that a doctor’s diagnosis of Lyme disease is erroneous:

4 in 5

Engineers were said to be at greater risk of becoming terrorists.

A deaf dog belonging to a deaf owner was shot and killed in Alabama, and an Indiana dog’s skin troubles were found to be caused by an allergy to humans. “It’s just not his fault,” said the owner of Lucky Dog Retreat.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today