Thursday, December 29, 2011

No ethics charges yet in Koch affair

Don Davis reports that new Senate majority leader Senjem thinks that the Koch affair is over:
So far, no senator has filed paperwork charging Koch with an ethical violation. On Minnesota Public Radio Wednesday, Senjem said that he does not expect an ethics complaint to be filed. “What happened has happened,” the new majority leader said. “It is over as far as I’m concerned. It is time to move on.”
Move on! Nothing to see here!

Of course, this is wishful thinking on the part of Senjem. Even a GOP member of the Senate Ethics Subcommittee admits that a violation probably occurred.
On Monday, a member of the Senate's subcommittee on ethical conduct said if the allegations about Koch having an improper relationship with a subordinate are true, "it's definitely something that could come before the ethics committee." Bill Ingebrigtsen, a Republican from Alexandria, added that if the reports are true, then Koch should not just step down as leader but should "absolutely" resign her seat. "Amy's a really good friend of mine" and she's done a "superb job," Ingebrigtsen said, but "I would encourage her to do that." Ingebrigtsen is one of four members of the ethics subcommittee, which has two Republicans and two Democrats. The other Republican, Senate President Michelle Fischbach, who chairs the subcommittee, declined through a spokesman Monday to say whether she thinks the Koch situation would be appropriate for ethics review [. . . ] Asked if Koch's situation - assuming the allegations are correct - merits ethics review, Ingebrigtsen said, "I'd be a liar if I said it doesn't." [emphasis added]
The relevant rules are the Permanent Rules of the Senate, and this very broad section:
56.3 Improper conduct includes conduct that violates a rule or administrative policy of the Senate, that violates accepted norms of Senate behavior, that betrays the public trust, or that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor or disrepute.
There's plenty of dishonor and disrepute to go around in this episode. Sen. Geoff Michel's dissembling and the subsequent correction of his timeline by former Senate Chief of Staff Cullen Sheehan also deserve scrutiny by the subcommittee. Even if Sen. Koch resigns her seat, the actions of the others in Senate Republican leadership posts betrayed the public trust.

The best course of action for the Senate, the State of Minnesota, and probably the Republican party would be for Republicans to police their own members' ethical conduct. If Sen. Ingebrigtsen believes this episode merits ethics review, he should pursue it. I'd have a great deal of respect for Sen. Koch if she filed an ethics complaint against herself. It's hypocritical for the party of family values and the sanctity of marriage to close ranks around one of its own. But I don't expect it will go down that way. Unfortunately, it will be up to a Senate DFL'er to file the complaint(s).

It's crucial that ethics proceedings not simply be an exercise in seeking political advantage. Sen. Koch has lost her leadership position and much more as a consequence of her actions, and censure by the Senate would be an appropriate institutional response. The reason ethics proceedings are necessary is because of the stonewalling and dissembling of others who seek to avoid answering for their handling of staff complaints.

As much as he wishes to, new Majority Leader Senjem cannot simply "move on" because his caucus had a closed door meeting. It will take sunshine and transparency to do that.

So, readers - do you think an ethics complaint will be filed? When? Who will file it?

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