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CURB LAST-MINUTE ETHICS CHARGES

In a commendable yet controversial move, the House Ethics Committee has voted to turn back all complaints of improper conduct against members made during the 60 days before an election.

Louis Stokes, D-Ohio, chairman of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, said the committee should not be utilized for "strictly specious, frivolous and politically motivated complaints just prior to elections."The new rule is intended to curb what members said is an increasingly popular tactic among challengers. They file an ethics complaint against a sitting house member and then trumpet the fact that serious charges are being investigated by the ethics committee.

The net impact is to cast serious aspersions on the member's reputation whether it is deserved or not. Under the rule, the committee is required to return to the sender any complaint submitted within the 60 days before a primary or general election.

While House members of both parties agree that legitimate complaints need to be investigated, they also recognize that it is too easy to seriously damage reputations simply by filing the complaint.

According to Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, who is a member of the panel, the majority of complaints on both sides of the aisle are "pure nonsense."

While changing the rule may prevent some legitimate accusations from being investigated quickly, it will not stop corrupt politicians from being exposed - and it will protect innocent candidates from being politically destroyed by frivolous charges in the final days of a campaign.