Despite the election promises and blustering speeches, Congress showed the other day how uninterested it is in truly cracking down on campaign expenditure fraud.
The Federal Elections Commission released a new draft of regulations governing the use of campaign money. Unfortunately, the latest version, unlike previous ones, would leave the House and Senate as judges over what is proper and what is not - hardly a comforting thought.The FEC had wanted to be the sole authority on the matter, but nervous lawmakers forced it to back off. Then, as if to add emphasis to its desire to avoid true reform, some members of Congress tried to cut the FEC budget, apparently as punishment for trying to write tougher regulations. A joint House and Senate conference is deciding whether to follow through with the cuts.
Ethics and matters of propriety do not belong in the political arena where they can be bartered in exchange for support or influence. But that is what the new rules would invite. Even if a member of Congress used campaign contributions to pay the mortgage, line his or her own pockets or fly to Hawaii on vacation - all blatant violations of the proposed new rules - ethics committees still could say it was OK.
Using campaign dollars for personal matters has long been illegal, but no specific rules exist to define what constitutes personal use. The FEC originally proposed a specific list that would leave no doubt. Most of that list remains in the draft that began circulating earlier this week.
But no one can take the list seriously as long as the men and women who may stand accused of violating it also are allowed to stand as the final judges of their own conduct.