Republicans Risk Diluting Ethics Message

March 7 2006, 2:59 PM
As the Rocky Mountain News reports today, Republicans have filed an ethics complaint against Democratic state Rep. Angie Paccione, who also happens to be running for congress against Rep. Marilyn Musgrave:
Eleven Republicans in Democrat Angie Paccione's legislative district in Fort Collins have asked for an ethics investigation into her campaign's offer to introduce top fund-raisers on the state House floor. "The Colorado State House of Representatives is the people's house, not a house that Ms. Paccione can auction off to the highest bidder," the constituents said in their complaint... ...It is the third request for an ethics investigation of a lawmaker this session, which is unprecedented in legislative history. A House Ethics Committee is investigating a complaint filed against Rep. Joe Stengel, R-Littleton, over his payroll submissions last year, including billing taxpayers while on vacation in Hawaii. Stengel last week resigned his minority leadership post. The committee meets today for the first time.
The Paccione complaint stems from an offer from her congressional campaign last month that offered to introduce top fundraisers on the state House floor -- an offer that was immediately rescinded by Paccione once she learned of it. Paccione blamed the offer on an overzealous young staffer, and given the timeline of how it happened, that was probably the case. You could still make a good case for an ethics complaint, however, which is why Republicans are pursuing it, but I think it's a mistake on the part of Republicans to go after Paccione. There have already been two ethics complaints in the legislature this session -- which is unprecedented -- and both of them are pretty solid cases. Stengel's overbilling for time worked outside of the legislative session was so blatantly egregious that there was really no way to defend it (although Republicans for the most part did not openly criticize him). Democratic Sen. Deanna Hanna is also facing an ethics hearing for asking for "reparations" from a realtors group that endorsed her opponent in 2004 after telling her that they were going to stay out of the race. It is because of Stengel and Hanna that I think Republicans are making a mistake in going after Paccione. Because both Democrats and Republicans appear pretty guilty in the court of public opinion with these two legislators, nobody really has a public relations advantage; it's tough for Democrats or Republicans to call each other corrupt at this point when they both have their black sheep. But by pulling Paccione into the fray, in a case that is certainly not as clearly troublesome as Hanna and Stengel's misdeeds, Republicans risk looking petty -- even if their complaint is valid. Because there is no precedence for so many ethics charges in the legislature, to the average Joe who isn't paying attention this starts to become nothing more than a boring case of partisan politics. Rather than trying to expose a culture of corruption among Democrats, which is the obvious intent, I think what happens is that the argument against Hanna -- the stronger argument -- gets diluted by including the charge against Paccione. Hanna is by far the bigger prize here because if she is forced to resign her seat becomes available in 2006 (it otherwise would not have opened up until 2008). If I were Republicans, I would keep beating the Hanna drum and not get distracted looking for another drum to beat. You can't play them both as effectively as if you just stick with one, and the risk is that you end up losing them both.