(I was down at Tiberi’s office with Bob and watched him sign the pledge. Photos and more thoughts on this a bit later)
Columbus Ohio: Former Congressman and current 12th District Congressional candidate Bob Shamansky (D) today traveled with several concerned constituents to the Westerville district office of his November opponent to unveil a major ethics reform package which Shamansky promised to introduce ?on my first day in office? if he is elected this November. He challenged incumbent Republican Congressman Pat Tiberi (R) to join him in signing a ?pledge? to introduce the legislative reforms.
Shamansky?s plan would ban all lobbyist-supplied gifts, meals and travel to members of Congress, end so-called ?earmarks? in the Federal budget, end the practice of Congress investigating itself by providing for independent investigations of Congressional wrong-doing, and mandate that any lawmaker found guilty of a felony lose his Congressional pension.
Shamansky cited various recent high-profile indictments and scandals involving members of Congress, but said, ?The problem isn?t that a few bad apples are breaking the law. The far bigger problem is that Congress has become so corrupted by lobbyists, money and perks that it?s stopped looking out for the people —and looks out instead for the special interests who wine them, dine them, and finance their re-election campaigns.?
Shamansky chided incumbent members of Congress ?including Tiberi —for supporting ?watered-down? ethics legislation that still permits wide-spread abuses, saying:
?When it comes to free meals from lobbyists, Mr. Tiberi?s bill would continue to permit them? In my opinion, Congressmen earning over $165,000 per year can buy their own damn meals, gifts and plane rides. My bill will ban such meals and gifts. No exceptions. No excuses.?
Shamansky also blasted so-called budgetary ?earmarks? which mandate spending large sums of money for specific ?pork barrel? projects, saying, ?Earmarks are open invitations to corruption. Sometimes, members of Congress have a direct financial interest in these projects? And earmarks waste taxpayer money on boondoggles like the infamous $233 million Alaskan ?Bridge to Nowhere.??
Shamansky called the idea of Congress investigating itself ?preposterous?, and said ?My bill will insure that ethics violations by members of Congress are independently investigated and that those found guilty are truly penalized.?
Shamansky concluded his remarks by saying, ?It?s time to drain the ethical swamp in Washington. It?s time to bring honor and honesty back to our government. And it?s time to finally hold Congress accountable to the people who elected them and who pay their salaries. We should do this not because it?s an election year. We should do this simply because it?s the right thing to do.?
The full text of Shamansky?s remarks and a copy of his signed ?pledge? after the break.
Cleaning Up Congress
Statement of Bob Shamansky
Democratic Candidate for Congress, 12th District ? Ohio
July 27, 2006
Shakespeare once wrote of ?something rotten in the state of Denmark.?
Today, the problem isn?t in Denmark —it?s in Washington, D.C.
So I have come here not just to make a speech, but to take a stand.
A stand against corruption. A stand against hypocrisy. A stand against the open sewer that Congress has become.
In recent months, we have seen Tom DeLay –the House Majority Leader –indicted for ethics violations and forced to resign his seat in Congress.
We?ve seen Bob Ney —a Republican Congressman from central Ohio —promising to run for re-election even if he?s indicted as widely expected.
We?ve seen William Jefferson —a Democratic Congressman from Louisiana— found with $90,000 of unexplained money stuffed into his freezer.
And we?ve seen ?Duke? Cunningham —a Republican Congressman from California — plead guilty to bribery and be sentenced to prison.
But the problem isn?t that a few bad apples are breaking the law.
The far bigger problem is that Congress has become so corrupted by lobbyists, money and perks that it?s stopped looking out for the people —and looks out instead for the special interests who wine them, dine them, and finance their re-election campaigns.
So they allow lobbyists to write an energy bill loaded with giveaways to the oil and gas industry —despite the fact that consumers here in the 12th Congressional District and all across America are paying sky-high prices at the pump.
They pass fat pay raises for themselves —-$30,000 over the past 9 years —-but then fail to raise the minimum wage for hard-working Americans.
And in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, Congress flatly prohibits the federal government from negotiating the lowest possible prices for prescriptions under the new Medicare drug program. The result is huge profits for the giant drug companies —and growing financial hardship for senior citizens in Franklin, Delaware and Licking counties.
In fact, Billy Tauzan —the former Congressman from Louisiana who authored that Medicare drug program which enriched the drug companies —left Congress shortly thereafter to take a new job. He?s now the chief lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry —at a reported salary of $2 million per year.
No wonder a CBS News poll found that just 35% of Americans approve of the way Congress is doing its job.
In light of all this, you might think Congress would clean up its act.
You might think that —but you would be wrong.
After promising top-to-bottom ethics reform last January, Congress is back to business-as-usual.
First, the reform they promised got watered down into the deceptively named ?Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006? —a bill so transparently bad that one major newspaper said it ?will cure corruption the same way an aspirin cures baldness??.in other words, not at all.
And now they won?t even pass that. This is the last week the House is in session before they ?recess? for the summer. And no ethics bill is scheduled for a vote.
So today, I have come to Pat Tiberi?s Congressional Office to say that this foot-dragging is completely unacceptable.
I have come to tell the voters what I will do if they elect me in November.
And I have come to ask Pat Tiberi either to join me in true ethics reform —or to explain to the voters why he won?t.
If I am elected, I pledge to introduce a bill to clean up Congress on my first day in office. And today, I ask Pat Tiberi to join me in signing that pledge.
True ethics reform must do at least 3 things.
First, it must cut the cozy link between lobbyists and Congress once and for all.
The so-called ?reform bill? that Mr. Tiberi supports would merely suspend privately funded travel until the end of this year —in other words, until after the November elections are safely over.
My bill will put a complete and total ban on Congressional travel that is funded by lobbyists or private interests. Not just this year, but forever.
The bill Mr. Tiberi supports would allow Members of Congress to keep flying on corporate jets with company CEOs.
My bill will ban Members of Congress from using corporate or privately owned jets. Period.
When it comes to free meals from lobbyists, Mr. Tiberi?s bill would continue to permit them. When it comes to lobbyist-supplied gifts, Mr. Tiberi?s bill says only that they should be disclosed.
My bill will ban such meals and gifts. No exceptions. No excuses.
In my opinion, Congressmen earning over $165,000 per year can buy their own damn meals, gifts and plane rides.
The second thing true ethics reform must do is put an end to the so-called budgetary ?ear marks? which are ballooning Federal deficits by mandating spending huge amounts of money to finance pork barrel projects in specific favored Congressional districts.
Earmarks are open invitations to corruption. Sometimes, members of Congress have a direct financial interest in these projects. Other times, they?re used to generate campaign contributions from special interests who do the work. And earmarks waste taxpayer money on boondoggles like the infamous $233 million Alaskan ?Bridge to Nowhere.?
Mr. Tiberi talks about fiscal responsibility. But since his party took control of the Federal government, earmarks have proliferated like mushrooms.
In 1996, there were just over 3,000 earmarks in the Federal budget. Today, there are over 14,000. And their overall cost has ballooned to an incredible $52.7 billion dollars.
The ethics bill Mr. Tiberi voted for only requires a list of earmarks —but conveniently does not apply to authorization or tax bills. In other words, it would not have covered scams like the ?Bridge to Nowhere.?
As a result, Mr. Tiberi and his Party are apparently feeling the heat. Late yesterday, the Republican leadership of the House announced that sometime in September, they will —and I quote — ?adopt and implement earmark reform rule changes.? Of course, they didn?t bother to tell us precisely what those rule changes are or exactly how they will fix the earmark problem.
Well, I won?t make the voters wait until September to learn what I will do. My bill will not seek to ?change the rules? for earmarks —my bill will seek to end hidden earmarks once and for all. And my bill will specifically prohibit the funding of any project that any Member of Congress has a financial interest in —whether that interest is personal or campaign-related. Under my bill, I can promise you that there will be no more bridges to nowhere.
Apparently, Mr. Tiberi sees nothing wrong with this arrangement.
I think it?s preposterous. So my bill will create an independent Office of Public Integrity under the Inspector General to investigate members of Congress.
In my view, the clubby atmosphere that now exists in the House of Representatives must come to an end. There will be independent investigations of wrong-doing —and violations will be referred to the U. S. Department of Justice.
And what should happen to those who are criminally convicted?
Under the bill Mr. Tiberi supports, they would lose only what the government contributes to their pensions —and their spouses could still receive benefits. But since everyone knows that spouses share benefits with each other, Mr. Tiberi?s bill actually provides no penalty at all.
Under my bill, lawmakers convicted of a felony related to their official duties will lose their Congressional pension. All of it. Every last dime. Period.
I have put everything I have talked about today in writing. I have signed this pledge —-and I am leaving a copy at Mr. Tiberi?s office this morning.
I am asking him to sign it as well. If he does not, I hope the news media and 12th District voters will ask him to explain why.
It?s time to drain the ethical swamp in Washington. It?s time to bring honor and honesty back to our government. And it?s time to finally hold Congress accountable to the people who elected them and who pay their salaries.
We should do this not because it?s an election year. We should do this simply because it?s the right thing to do.