Life is indeed stranger than fiction and, if you’re looking for laughs in the increasingly humorless politics of Washington, the Senate is a good place to look.
The chuckler of the day is a Washington Post article titled Democrats Query Nominee On Ethics. They are, of course, talking about conversations with Sam Alito, the current nominee for Supreme Court Justice, with whom nobody seems able to find much seriously wrong. But they’re trying, bless their sticky little fingers.
Teddy Kennedy, the lion of Hyannis Port and the Judiciary Committee’s most senior member, asked Alito why he hadn’t recused himself from opinions relating to Vanguard and Smith Barney. Alito had funds invested with Vanguard at the time of his judgement and Smith Barney was his broker on the later case. The decisions didn’t really affect the judge’s investment portfolio and he blamed the appeal court’s computer, which was supposed to remind him. Fair enough.
But the part that amuses me is that Teddy regularly feeds at the trough of law firms, indeed is the #1 Senate recipient of money from lawyers/law firms. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Teddy pocketed three quarters of a million buckaroos from this group in the 2001-2005 election cycle. The Judiciary Committee looks closely at legislation affecting lawyers and law firms, but Teddy sees no reason to recuse himself from voting. And Teddy’s far from being alone. Talk about ethics, no one in the House or Senate is above pocketing the dough.
Strange attitude. A higher standard for justices? Does it make you grin that a lower standard is expected of those who make the laws than those who interpret them? Yeah well, hard to see a lot of humor in that, I admit.
Not to pick particularly on Teddy, but I will anyway because it suits the purpose of my commentary and the numbers don’t quite add up. In 2002 the senator raised $285,670, which I suppose is modest for a member of that august body. But in the 2004 ‘cycle’ he multiplied that by ten, to $2,422,479 and in the current period (which is still counting and runs through 2006) he’s already doubled that to $4,976,274. The part that doesn’t add up is that he raised $7,684,423, spent $3,871,836 and still has $7,776,442 left over.
I only wish my finances worked that way.
But Teddy is no different than any of them and I think they ought to ask Sam Alito why he didn’t recuse himself. One recuses oneself (steps aside) when he or she has a financial interest in something over which they have power. But the knife cuts both ways for a committee that influences legislation ranging from criminal justice to antitrust and intellectual property law. On a daily, monthly, yearly basis our elected representatives make decisions affecting nearly every aspect of your and my life while taking money from the applicants.
Would you run your business that way? On a broader scale than judiciary, would you knowingly let someone with a vested interest make a decision about how much you can earn, what college your kids can go to or if your employer really has to honor the deal he made on your pension? Do you trust someone who takes money and then writes laws for those who paid him?
Do you trust Teddy Kennedy?
One additionally amusing thing about Teddy is that he’s likely to be the senior Senator from Massachusetts as long as he cares to be. With a war-chest of $8 million or so, where would a challenger come from? More damning yet, were such a challenger to raise an equal amount, how deep in the pocket of his contributors would he be? Indeed, how deep does $8 million put Teddy?
So, when it comes to giving notice to prospective members of the Supreme Court, flip open the Bible, Ted and read its exhortation, ‘physician, heal thyself.’