Thursday, April 13, 2006

Conyers accused of ethical violations

Rep. John Conyers, D.-Mich., has been accused of improperly using his Congressional staff to babysit his children and work on political campaigns, including his wife's.

Sydney Rooks, whom Conyers hired as a legal adviser in his Detroit office, recalls the lawmaker brought his two young sons into her office several times, saying, "Rooks, they're your responsibility for right now. I'll be back later."...

(snip)

Deanna Maher, who was deputy chief of staff in Conyers' Downriver office, says her baby-sitting duties turned into a stint as a full-time nanny. "He handed me the keys to his car and his house, [said] take care of my child Carl and everything," Maher told CNN from her western Michigan home.

Maher says she moved into Conyers' Detroit home. She took care of his elder son for several weeks, she says, while the congressman was in Washington and his wife attended law classes in Oklahoma.

Maher, Rooks and two other staffers have filed complaints with the House ethics committee.

If true this is disappointing, though not in a "hang him high" sense. Misusing staffers is a petty offense compared to corruption or bribery. Having staffers do campaign work would violate campaign finance laws, but the seriousness of that would depend on the extent of the work.

Of course, the likelihood of this ever being resolved is very small, because the House ethics committee is pretty much nonfunctional.

It was also disappointing -- if predictable -- to see Democrats borrow a GOP tactic and use the "disgruntled former worker" defense:

Sam Riddle, a spokesman for Monica Conyers, said the councilwoman "denies that any of the congressman's staff helped with her campaign." Riddle called the former staff members "disgruntled employees who couldn't cut it in the work force."

At least he categorically denied the charge. But the "disgruntled" defense should be done away with. The motivation of those making charges is irrelevant; what matters is whether their charges have any merit. Claiming a critic is merely "disgruntled" is a way to imply the charges are baseless without having to directly address them. That may be smart in a legal sense, but it's the weasel way out.

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