Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Ethics of Ethics Charges

It's a scandal, I tells ya!

A pair of DFL legislators on Monday charged that a top Senate Republican lied about his knowledge of an affair between a staffer and former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and brought the Senate into "dishonor and disrepute."

In an ethics complaint filed against Sen. Geoff Michel, the former deputy Senate majority leader, the Democrats raise charges stemming from Republicans' handling of Koch's relationship with former staffer Michael Brodkorb. In December, announcing Koch's decision to resign from her leadership post, Michel said he had only recently learned of the relationship, but he later admitted he had known about the relationship for months.

Ooh, that is bad. Politicians never shade the truth during a press availability.

Seriously? That's it? No wait, there's more:

Michel, an Edina Republican who lost his leadership post in the wake of the episode, said the complaint is "about politics and payback and has nothing to do with ethics. The DFL wants a few more headlines."

Said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook: "It appears like he was trying to execute a coverup."

A coverup of what, precisely? The affair itself? His knowledge of the affair? Was he supposed to tell someone the minute he learned about it? If so, who? Is there some sort of father-confessor that needs to learn about such things?

So what's the point of it, really? Do these investigations and tribunals and kabuki actually improve the functioning of the Senate? Or are they simply a waste of time of a particularly self-indulgent sort? Well, it's really about payback:

Bakk and Pappas said Michel should publicly apologize on the Senate floor. Such acts of contrition are not unheard of in the Legislature. In 2006, then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, apologized on the Senate floor to settle an ethics complaint lodged over incorrect statements he made about the state Supreme Court's intent to act on gay marriage issues. Michel was one of the signers of that complaint.

At some point you need to ask those sorts of basic questions. And then you have to ask another question -- what does "ethics" mean in this context? It's ludicrous on its face to say that Michel brought the Senate into "dishonor and disrepute" in this instance. Anyone who deals with state government beyond the level of a high school civics class understands that however lofty the goals of an institution, it will fall short in nearly all instances, because every institution we have requires the presence of human beings, who are fallible.

It's long been the case that ethics charges are less about maintaining ethics than conducting the business of political payback by other means. In most cases, the hacks from one party charges the hacks from the other with malfeasance, while dismissing their own malfeasance should payback arise. I would fully expect that, if the DFLers ever regain power, Tom Bakk will do something that could trigger ethics charges and he'll get paid back for this little stunt.

Lather, rinse, repeat. You know what would really be ethical, Sen. Bakk? If you'd stop wasting our time and resources on crap like this.


Night Writer said...

Can they demonstrate the public was harmed by this or that, in fact, any laws were broken by Koch, Brodkorb or Michel?

The damages were close-to-home and self-inflicted, but not a stain on the Senate, which already resembles a contour sheet in a by-the-hour hotel.

It does make you kind of wish Brodkorb follows through on naming names just to see what DFL derrières get bitten oh-so-ethically.

CousinDan 54915 said...

These scandals are never any good without pictures.

Mr. D said...

Dan, you don't want pictures in this case. Trust me on this.

CousinDan 54915 said...

Thanks Mr. D