Thursday, June 01, 2006

William Jefferson

William Jefferson (D-LA), the congressman from New Orleans, is the kind of Democrat who makes party politics difficult for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. His voting record -- highlights of which are laid out nicely by John Nichols of The Nation -- include:
  • Support for the Patriot Act.
  • A vote for the authorizaiton to use force in Iraq (arguably not that controversial given the Senate Democratic record)
  • Backing of Dick Cheney's energy task force.
  • Aid to House Republicans in their efforts to restrict access to abortion, promote school prayer initiatives, and the enactment of the Federal Marriage Amendment.
  • A vote for a $140 billion in an export tax break for US manufacturers -- the tax break was deemed illegal by the WTO.
  • Repeated votes for bankruptcy "reform." I wonder if his constituents in New Orleans know about this.
What is most disturbing about Jefferson's record, and why it's relevant to this blog, is his urgent support, in 1998, of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). According to Nichols [emphasis mine]:
Condemned by South African President Nelson Mandela and African trade unions that saw it as a move to make it even easier for multinational corporations to exploit the continent's workers and resources, AGOA was described by a leading foe, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., as the "Africa Recolonization Act."

During the House debate on the issue, Jackson pointed out, "The AGOA extends short-lived trade 'benefits' for the nations of sub-Sahara Africa. In exchange for these crumbs from globalization's table, the African nations must pay a huge price: adherence to economic policies that serve the interests of foreign creditors, multinational corporations and financial speculators at the expense of the majority of Africans."
But the FBI search of his office this weekend hasn't sparked a debate over congressional ethics -- instead, we are graced with the ironic symphony of Republicans whining about separation of powers, as if there are no circumstances under which a congressional office could be reasonably searched. According to the Times-Picayune (March 31, emphasis mine):

As lawmakers were venting their frustrations during a rare Capitol Hill hearing scheduled during a congressional recess, the Justice Department reiterated its view that the search was justified because Jefferson had not complied with a subpoena served last year seeking documents.

In various court filings the government has alleged that Jefferson received payments and corporate stock to push telecommunications deals in Nigeria and Ghana. The eight-term Louisiana congressman has not been charged and has denied ever receiving bribes in connection with his official duties.

Jefferson is not the kind of Democrat that I want in Congress. He's not the kind of congressman I want in Congress!

We should be furious that scandals like these even come up, regardless of party, and regardless of whether the FBI gets involved. (Although it is reasonable to ask why the FBI never searched Duke Cunningham's office last year when it was later found that he had what amounted to a "bribe menu" written out on congressional letterhead.)

If the House and Senate ethics committees had been functional, perhaps such scandals could have been avoided. Now, instead of an internal investigation carried out by House officials into Jefferson's ethical and perhaps criminal lapses, we get a "red, white, and blue" wall of silence, with Sensenbrenner demanding the same privileges for Congress as are enjoyed by the press.


1 comment:

Daniel said...

Apparently some members of Congress really believe they are above the law. It's time they were shown that they are not, or shown the door as it were. I think if an elected representative is under investigation for corruption, they should be able to search his office, his home, his mistress's apt., and have a proctologist do a cavity search if they want.

He's not worried about the separation of powers, he's worried about getting convicted and winding up Bubba's cell mate.