Our View: To paraphrase Michael Kinsley, the scandal in politics these days isn't what's illegal; it's what is legal.
This morning the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee voted to dismiss the ethics complaint against John Morse over his per diem payment abuse. Such a conclusion had been expected for a while now, as the standard set for moving the complaint forward was virtually impossible to prove.
Joe Stengel's ethics complaint was similarly dropped, but unlike Morse, Stengel implicitly accepted responsibility for his actions by voluntarily resigning leadership, while Morse shows no signs of showing similar constraint of conscience.
Sharon Eubanks, of the non-partisan Legislative Legal Services office, pointed out to the Colorado Statesmen that no complaint has met the probable cause requirement since the mid-90s.
The committee claimed that since the complainant was unable to prove that Morse wasn't doing work pertaining to the General Assembly, they had to drop the complaint.
This is a dangerous precedent to set. In order to prove Morse wasn't working, the Colorado Government Accountability Project would have had to virtually stalk Morse for all of 2009 in the hopes of recording an entire day when Morse did not do any work. Is that the standard we want to set for proving ethical improprieties of elected officials? Shouldn't they be held to a higher standard?
Both Democrat Senator Pat Steadman and Republican Senator Shawn Mitchell voiced their view that Morse's response was, to put it lightly, disappointing. As we pointed out in an earlier post, Morse used Clinton-esque shenanigans to get off on what was clearly bad judgement and loose ethics to collect nearly $40,000 in tax-free taxpayer money.
Perhaps the worst part of the ethics episode is that Morse was not called out on per diem fraud in his own response. His attempt to claim per diem as payment, and not business travel expense reimbursement, clearly violates the IRS's definition of per diem. Morse even made the insulting claim that his abuse in taking per diem payments "clearly represent[ed] [his] commitment to [his] duties as a senator in a leadership position."
Morse has thrown down the gauntlet. Speaker McNulty, Minority Leader Pace, Senate President Shaffer, and Minority Leader Kopp — when are you going to show some commitment to your jobs and fleece taxpayers for as much cash as you can pocket?
While Morse may be happy getting away with his extra cash and insults to leadership colleagues, his troubles are not over yet.
That is because of the Party in Peking he admitted to in his ethics complaint response.
By attending a corporate lobbyist-backed paid junket to China he may have violated Amendment 41. The rules for per diem payments may have been less clear than Obama's excuses for going to war in Libya, but Amendment 41 is very clear on who may pay for legislator travel.
We gladly await John Morse's excuse for his Shindig in Shanghai.
So we say it again: the scandal in politics these days isn't what's illegal; it's what is legal.