29 March 2006

Senate "leader" on ethics less than ethical on further review

U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) editorializes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that the Senate does the right thing from an ethics point of view.
If we were to take Santorum's statement at face value, we would assume that he means to encourage Senate members to adopt habits of professional practice which result in good Senators. Generally speaking, good Senators (qua Senators, which may differ to some extent from their goodness qua husbands or businessmen) are accountable to their constituents, politically effective (by which I mean that they prove able to advance their policy agenda), and fundamentally committed to the overarching principles of American government. One perennial bad habit of Senators has been the reliance on a small group of especially wealthy contributors for their financial support (we qualify the interests of such groups as "special" precisely because they are not general).

Santorum goes on, however, to explain exactly what he means by doing everything in his power to keep Senators away from the ethically slippery slope of improper lobbying:
When Sen. Bill Frist asked me to lead the Republican lobbying reform effort, the goal was to bring Democrats and Republicans together on a bill that we could all agree on.
Curious. I would have thought that the goal was formulating a baseline standard for what constitutes poor practice when it comes to mixing lobbying and fundraising. The challenge would have been persuading everyone to accept the highest standard possible, which is what political leadership is. For Santorum, the goal is simply to find something "we could all agree on."
Finding people willing to agree with him proved Mr. Santorum’s greatest challenge.

This is not political leadership, and it is does not really concern ethics. This is demagoguery--a sitting member of Congress spinning about "bipartisan working groups" while he indulges the most egregious of his bad habits. Further, even if Santorum could be taken more or less at his word, his actions don't really address the ethics of the situation, since establishing baseline standards of naughtiness won't encourage good habits, and good ethics means, more or less, good habits (as I've discussed elsewhere).
Committee Meeting
I ask you: Does this look like the best way to make ethical decisions?

An authentically ethical solution to the problem of improper lobbying and fundraising requires an approach which first and foremost assumes that continual improvement is possible. It’s not enough simply to set standards and leave it at that. Ethically, the point would have to be to inculcate in Senators good habits when dealing with lobbyists and handling their fundraising. Not that rules don't have an important role to play, but the question is less about specific rules than about an underlying commitment to being a good Senator. We need first to agree what a good Senator is in general, and then we need to come up with ways to get those elected to adopt habits which fit them to that mold.

(Hat tip to Santorum Exposed.)