A Congressional Ethics Revival?

House Republican leader Tom DeLay’s ethics problems are having a beneficial effect on fellow lawmakers.

According to The Washington Post, “Members of Congress are rushing to amend their travel and campaign records, fearing that the controversy over House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will trigger an ethics war that will bring greater scrutiny to their own travel and official activities.”

The Post said the lawmakers “are paying old restaurant bills, filing missing forms and correcting erroneous ones” before reporters and political opponents get to the records. And some lawmakers are not accepting paid travel at all.

Members of Congress are not allowed to accept paid trips from lobbyists or foreign agents. Problems can arise when trips are sponsored by nonprofit groups, which do not have to disclose how they, in turn, are paying for those trips. Members are supposed to find out, but reporting is on the honor system and one ethics watchdog told USA Today that “it has become a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ system.”

Perhaps the members have cause to be worried. A study by PoliticalMoneyLine, an online tracker of money in politics, found that lawmakers have taken $16 million in privately paid trips since 2000, over half of it from nonprofits.

The DeLay dustup has even moved the House ethics committee to begin a series of briefings on ethical standards that will continue throughout the year.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that donations to DeLay’s legal defense fund have dropped sharply, from $254,250 in the last three months of 2004 to $47,750 in the first three months of this year.

Depending on where you stand on DeLay, this could be read one of two ways: Either he’s got this thing licked and doesn’t need the money, or he’s a lost cause and there’s no sense throwing good money after bad.

However you spin it, at least he’s got his colleagues cleaning up their act.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)