Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi promises changes in the corrupt way Congress conducts its business but her shameless promotion of Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha suggests her reign at the top will be business as usual when it comes to protecting one of her own.

One of the first rules of politics is to avoid the “appearance of impropriety.” It doesn’t matter if you are guilty or innocent of wrongdoing. You must work your ass off to prove you are above suspicion.

Murtha, unfortunately, doesn’t pass the smell test. He has a long history of pandering to fatcat lobbyists, manipulating the system for personal gain and using the power of office to benefit his family and friends.

And there is Abscam, the FBI sting operation, that targeted 31 elected officials and convicted a Senator and five Congressman of bribery and conspiracy.

Murtha was one of those targeted because of his cozy relationships with defense lobbyists. In a videotape, Murtha refused a bribe of $50,000 from an undercover FBI agent not because he felt it was wrong but, to use his own words, because he didn’t know him.

“I’m not interested…at this point,” Murtha said. “We do business for a while, maybe I’ll be interested, maybe I won’t.”

Not interested at this point? Do business for a while? Are these the comments of an honest man or one who is just being careful?

An honest man would have stalked out of the room and reported the attempted bribe. Murtha didn’t do either. He sat there and left the door open for a future relationship with a man who openly offered him a bribe.

Murtha says he did nothing wrong. He’s lying. By not reporting the attempted bribe he became complicit in the corruption that has long been part of life on Capitol Hill. By keeping his mouth shut he gave support to a system that still exists today even with stings like Abscam and current scandals like Jack Abramoff.

Pelosi promises to clean up Congress and with the pile of garbage left by Republicans she will need a big broom. But any claims of restoring integrity to government are invalidated when she openly backs a Congressman with a checkered past and unanswered questions about his ethics.

Murtha claims bringing up Abscam is a “swiftboating” attack engineered by his opponent for the House leader job, Maryland Rep. Stenny Hoyer. So much for Democratic unity.

Pelosi’s actions as Speaker will be scrutinized at microscopic levels given her position as the first woman to ever hold the job and her promises to turn Congress into the “most ethical” legislative body in history.

Dealing with Murtha was her first test.

She flunked.