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Senate to Coburn: Stop Delivering Babies for Free

By Betsy Newmark

Senator Coburn is ready for a showdown with the Senate Ethics Committee. At issue is his practice as an obstetrician. When he became senator he had to give up charging for delivering babies because senators are not allowed outside income. But Coburn has continued and is just not charging the women. He is paying his own malpractice insurance himself. The problem that the Ethics Committee has is that the hospital where he delivers the babies is a for-profit hospital and Senate rules forbid such potential conflicts of interest. Coburn, who is one tough guy, is willing to bring the whole issue out into the public and force a vote on whether he should be penalized for delivering babies for free even if the hospital he does it at is trying to make a profit.

If the Ethics Committee actually gets to the point where it calls for a public reprimand, Coburn can appeal to the full Senate for a vote, and he's betting that he'd win a vote if 100 senators were asked whether he should be allowed to deliver babies for free -- especially since most of his patients are "at risk," meaning they could be drug users, uninsured or poor patients, or women with high-risk pregnancies.

Coburn also insists that, with all the high-profile ethics scandals facing Congress -- leading off with Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens' federal criminal trial this fall -- the Senate would look petty by going after someone who is donating his money and medical services to help pregnant women.

Senate aides would not comment on the record, but ethics experts on and off Capitol Hill say the Senate Ethics Committee needs to be consistent in applying its conflict of interest rules, even if Coburn presents a sympathetic case.

Aides also point out that many senators have given up their professional lives when they were elected. Sen. John Ensign gave up his Nevada veterinary practice, Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia stopped selling real estate and former Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee stopped performing heart and lung transplant work. All three are Republicans.

The committee's case against Coburn is based on Senate rules that prohibit senators from being involved in professional affiliations that would create a conflict of interest.
This would be such an embarrassment to the Senate to try to stop Coburn's efforts. The differences with those other senators is that Coburn is volunteering his efforts.

And the real corruption we have to worry about is not his tangential association with a for-pay hospital, but the benefits that politicians, whether they are in the Congress or running for higher office, receive from rich people who just want to do them favors. Senator Stevens's scandal demonstrates how easy it is for senators to try to preserve their deniability by saying that they just didn't know that the real estate company was undercharging him on his house renovations. Rather like Senator Edwards saying he just didn't know that his moneybags friend, Tony Baron, was paying for Edwards' mistress to move out to California and live in a multi-million dollar mansion. These guys just happen to have friends who do that sort of thing for politicians without even telling them about it.
Or what about the benefits that a politician's relatives receive. Harry Reid's sons have been enriched from a bill that their father pushed through to help their real estate business. The Los Angeles Times five years ago reported on how the relatives of politicians can make money through bills that their family member passes to help them out.
It was the kind of legislation that slips under the radar here.

The name alone made the eyes glaze over: "The Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002." In a welter of technical jargon, it dealt with boundary shifts, land trades and other arcane matters -- all in Nevada.

As he introduced it, Nevada's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Harry Reid, assured colleagues that his bill was a bipartisan measure to protect the environment and help the economy in America's fastest-growing state.

What Reid did not explain was that the bill promised a cavalcade of benefits to real estate developers, corporations and local institutions that were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees to his sons' and son-in-law's firms, federal lobbyist reports show.
And Reid isn't the only culprit, although he's the most egregious practitioner of this brand of corruption.
It was the kind of legislation that slips under the radar here.

The name alone made the eyes glaze over: "The Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002." In a welter of technical jargon, it dealt with boundary shifts, land trades and other arcane matters -- all in Nevada.

As he introduced it, Nevada's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Harry Reid, assured colleagues that his bill was a bipartisan measure to protect the environment and help the economy in America's fastest-growing state.

What Reid did not explain was that the bill promised a cavalcade of benefits to real estate developers, corporations and local institutions that were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees to his sons' and son-in-law's firms, federal lobbyist reports show.
He gets away with all this by saying that his sons aren't lobbying him personally.
Soon after The Times interviewed him about his children's activities last fall, the senator decided to ban relatives from lobbying his office entirely.

The ban applies to members of Reid's family but not to colleagues at the firms where they work, such as former Sen. Bryan.

Read the rest of the LA Times article; it's a real eye-opener of how things can be done to get around those Senate Ethics rules.

This sort of corruption is a lot harder to pin down. It isn't fair to the families of politicians to say that they can't make a living in their chosen profession just because they have a relative in Congress. But it is also a very slippery method of channeling money to a loved one. And Harry Reid is a master at this. In comparison, Tom Coburn's supposed transgression is really inconsequential. If they do indeed bring Coburn's obstetrical charity to the Senate floor, I hope he points out the Majority Leader's own slippery ethics.

Betsy blogs at Betsy's Page