Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Evan Bayh and Political Corruption

Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.
Ronald Reagan

An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.
Simon Cameron

Corrupt politicians make the other ten percent look bad.
Henry Kissinger

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.
Mark Twain

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. It is widely recognized and generally accepted that politicians are corrupt. We could debate whether this conventional wisdom is actually true or not, but we'll save that debate for another time. Let's just accept as a given that the perception among the general public is that politicians are corrupt, or, at the very least, are predisposed to becoming corrupt. Given that politics and corruption are inseparable, the next best thing to having honest politicians is full and complete disclosure of all their financial dealings. Whenever Congress attempts to go any further than this in a misguided crusade to stamp out corruption, as it did, for example, with the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform fiasco of 2002, the results are usually catastrophic, and invariably worse off than they already were. It has been said many times: "Sunshine is the best disinfectant." Transparency, which, among other things, requires financial disclosure, is usually the best protection against political corruption.

Hence we have the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. This law, passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal, requires all members of Congress, each and every year, to disclose all of their relevent financial dealings. The hope is that any potential wrong-doing or potential conflicts of interest will thereby be revealed. Failure to comply is a felony act punishable by fines and disiplinary action by an appropriate authority, such as an Ethics Committee. Unfortunately, there have been numerous instances where public officials have failed to comply with the law and have gone unpunished. Because of lax enforcement some members of Congress believe they can violate the law with impunity. Judicial Watch, a nonpartician watchdog group, reports that Bill and Hillary Clinton, Sen Bill Frist, Sen Harry Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have all had problems with their disclosure reports, with no real investigations or punishments have resulted.

The latest member of Congress with financial disclosure problems is Indiana Senator Evan Bayh. On March 1, 2007 Judicial Watch revealed that he failed to disclose his role as a director of the Evan and Susan Bayh Foundation from 2002, the year he was first named a director, until 2005, the most recent year for which this information is available. You may view Evan Bayh's disclosure filings at the Open Secrets web site. USA Today reports that Bayh spokeswoman Meghan Keck said it was "simply an oversight" that he did not disclose this information. Is it an oversight, or a willful violation of the law? Such foundations can be lucrative tax shelters for the very rich. For example, it has been reported that the Clinton Family Foundation enabled Bill and Hillary to write off more than $5 million from their taxable personal income. It also invites possible "sweetheart deals" for those that generously contribute to or otherwise assist in the work of the foundation. The Ethics in Government Act was designed to guard against such corruption. Repeated, flagrant violation of the Ethics inGovernment Act has become the norm in Washington, and now we can add Evan Bayh to the long list of politicians that fail to comply with the law until confronted.

Pelosi and other Democrats made ethics and greater transparency a top priority in the 2006 elections. When the Democratic-controlled Congress convened in January, the House changed its ethics rules but did not specifically address financial disclosure rules. The Senate passed an ethics bill earlier this month that would boost penalties for knowingly filing false financial disclosure statements. Unfortunately, there is rarely any investigation into disclosure violations that could establish whether a report was knowingly falsified. "Despite all the ethics reforms, there's still no enforcement," said Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and head of the liberal-leaning Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington.

“Federal disclosure laws are in place for a very good reason – to alert the public to any conflicts of interest and potentially corrupt activity. Too many members of Congress repeatedly ignore disclosure laws with impunity. This has got to stop.” wrote Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The Committee should investigate whether Senator Bayh’s failure to disclose his family foundation is a willful violation of the rules and law governing such disclosure.”

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Same-Sex Marriage in Indiana

Indiana is a red state. It is the heartland of America -- fly-over country. It is about as wholesome a place as you can find. Musicians and moviemakers frequently make reference to Indiana whenever they want to evoke images of small town America. Indiana is the last place you would expect gay marriage to have any popular support. And, in fact, it has none. However, the will of the public is rarely on the political agenda of the Left, and that is not what the gay marriage movement is about. Gay marriage is just another attempt to use the power of government to impose the belief system of a fringe group upon the public. In this case, unelected activist judges have redefined marriage to include homosexual unions. Furthermore, there is the concern that a federal judge could declare that a legal homosexual marriage in one State must be recognized in other States, even in those States that have outlawed homosexual marriage. It is against this backdrop that the Federal Same Sex Marriage Resolution and an Indiana State Constitutional Amendment are being debated.

Indiana State legislators passed a law banning gay marriage in 1997. Although this law was attacked in the courts by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union it has withstood the challenges. Nonetheless, Indiana lawmakers recognized that without a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage the court challenges would not end. Enter SJR-7, the proposed State constitutional Defense of Marriage Amendment (DOMA). It is currently working its way through the Indiana legislature, and is expected to come before Indiana voters in 2008 as a ballot referendum. This is the democratic process that would allow the will of the public to prevail. State Senator Brandt Hershman was quoted as saying "The decision before us today is simply, do you trust the citizens of the state of Indiana to decide the future of one of the most fundamental building blocks of our society?" Naturally, the Left is opposed to putting this before the voters. Public opinion polls in Indiana have shown that a large majority of Hoosiers are opposed to gay marriage. The Left would perfer to continue to fight this in the courts where they have a chance of finding a sympathetic judge that will impose their will upon the people. It has been noted that "Virtually every major newspaper in the state has now editorialized against SJR-7." Surprising? I think not. Across the country, a DOMA has never been defeated in an open popular vote.

Now, even if SJR-7 were to prevail, it would not be the final word on the issue. Federal law trumps State law, and a Federal judge can overturn a State constitutional amendment. Indeed, in 2005 a federal judge in Nebraska overturned a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. So the only way to put this issue to rest would be a US Constitutional Amendment. This has been attempted twice, once in 2004 and most recently in 2006. On both occasions Congress failed to pass the proposed amendement. It should be noted that Evan Bayh voted in support of gay marriage on both occasions.

Speaking of Evan Bayh, where does he stand on the Indiana DOMA? Despite voting in support of gay marriage twice, he has refused to take any position on it. He was specifically questioned about his position on it by a group of liberal Indiana bloggers during his short-lived Presidential campaign, and he said he had not yet read the amendment so he could not take a position on it. This is laughable. Constitutional amendments, unlike other pieces of legislation, are usually brief statements composed of just a few sentances. DOMAs have become standardized, the wording is virtually identical from State to State. Here is the proposed Indiana Marriage Amendment:

Section 38.
(a) Marriage in Indiana consists only of the union of one man and one woman.
(b) This Constitution or any other Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.