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What's Wrong With These People?

Lynn Sweet rips the lid off of what looks to be yet another example of malfeasance by a member of Congress, this time a questionable deal between Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush and communications giant SBC (now AT&T):

An Englewood community center founded by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a key player on telecommunications legislation, received a $1 million grant from the charitable arm of SBC/AT&T, one of the nation's largest phone companies.

The chief of a congressional watchdog group says Rush's ongoing association with the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corporation and his role in shaping telecommunications law as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee is a conflict of interest. Using charitable giving as a backdoor way to curry favor with lawmakers is coming under increasing scrutiny, figuring in controversies associated with former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who was forced to temporarily step aside as the ranking Democrat on the Ethics panel.

On Wednesday, the energy and commerce panel on which Rush sits is set to vote on a controversial rewrite of telecommunications law co-sponsored by Rush and backed by major phone companies eager to compete with cable television companies.

Rush says he supports the bill because it encourages competition and will benefit low income areas in districts like his by driving down prices. Though that claim is disputed by some, it's certainly a reasonable position to hold and the bill was approved by a subcommittee vote of 24-7 with the support from 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats. The merit of the legislation, however, is beside the point.

Even if there isn't a quid-pro quo - and no one is alleging any such thing - what on earth would allow Rush to think it's acceptable for him to take a million dollars in charitable contributions from a company whose business he directly oversees from his perch on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet? Spare me the soliloquies about good intentions or what a difference the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corporation is making in the community, this should be a no-brainer conflict of interest. Let's not forget to throw in the fact that Rush's son works for the Rebirth of Englewood CDC and is, presumably, drawing a salary.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress seem to have taken leave of their senses about what is and is not acceptable behavior for elected officials. As we've seen, Democratic cries of a "culture of corruption" are blatantly hypocritical, and Republicans are offering up a band-aid for a wound that requires a tourniquet.