Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin's ethics, Foley's heir and Obama's ACORN


Troopergate: Here's a pet theory of mine: "Ethics" probes are more often than not weapons deployed against the out-of-favor by their political and professional enemies; their outcomes have less to do with the particular violations than who's under fire and who—the target's friends or foes—controls the investigatory firepower.

Exhibit du jour: the recent ethics violation in the Sarah Palin "Troopergate" probe. The one found by a lawyer hired by an Alaska senator who's a Barack Obama backer and promised an "October surprise."

The fuss started when Palin fired Alaska's public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan. Foes claimed he was fired because he wouldn't fire Palin's ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper with a sorry record—Tazering his 11-year-old, saying his father-in-law would "eat a (expletive deleted) lead bullet" if he helped his daughter get a divorce attorney).

Now, the investigating lawyer, Stephen Branchflower, concedes that Monegan's firing was "a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority." He also believes Monegan's refusal to fire Trooper Mike Wooten was "not the sole" reason Monegan was fired, but "likely a contributing factor." Branchflower, however, found an ethics violation, an "abuse of authority," in Palin's seeking—never explicitly asking, mind you—to have Wooten fired; she used her position, or failed to use her position, to advance a personal interest.

But what Branchflower sees as a personal interest could just as easily be deemed a public interest—concern about the quality of the state police and a disciplinary system that keeps someone like Wooten on the job. That's not to say Palin is blameless. She showed a clear lack of judgment. But a lack of judgment is not always an "abuse of power" or an ethics violation. Unless, of course, you're bent on delivering up an "October surprise."

A hot seat: How poetic. Oh, how Wordsworthian, Yeatsean, Ginsbergian and Dr. Seussian poetic. The Democrat who replaced Florida's Mark Foley, the Republican of lewd e-mails to teenage boys and congressional pages fame, has a sex scandal of his own these days. Yes, ABC News has reported that Rep. Tim Mahoney agreed to a $121,000 payment to a former mistress-staffer who threatened to sue him.

The Florida Democrat ran in 2006 promising "a world that is safer, more moral" and deploying a "Restoring America's Values Begins at Home" slogan and pictures of the wife and kids. Simultaneously, however, he was, well, debriefing a woman he met campaigning. Patricia Allen became a campaign volunteer and, later, a staffer in his office. When she found out Mahoney was also cheating on her, she wanted to end the affair. But Mahoney told her that would mean an end to her job.

Here's where it gets sublime. Foley's lawyer now represents Mahoney. Foley's scandal had e-mails; Mahoney's has tapes. ("If you do the job that I think you should do, you get to keep your job. Whenever I don't feel like you're doing your job, then you lose your job. And guess what? The only person that matters is guess who? Me.") And today's scandal raises the same questions: What did congressional leaders know and when? According to ABC News, senior Democratic leaders have worked with Mahoney "to keep the matter from hurting his re-election campaign"

But there the poetry will likely end. In 2006, the media swarmed the Foley story. Any bets on the Mahoney tale getting similar notice? And doubt why?

Falling acorns: Speaking of media double standards, it's time to play that (un)favorite game of conservatives and Republicans, "What if ...?"

What if John McCain had channeled funds to a group that has spent millions to register 1.3 million new Republicans? What if McCain had been involved with the group as a lawyer and director of a voter-registration project? What if his campaign had given the group $800,000 for get-out-the-vote work—but initially "misrepresented" this work to the Federal Elections Commission? And what if the group was accused of registering sham voters across the land?

Ah, but since the candidate is Barack Obama and the group is the Association of Community Organizations of Reform (Acorn)—well, don't you worry your pretty little heads about it.

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