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Culture of corruption, redux

Congress' approval rating has already dropped to near-comical depths; new ethics allegations against a powerful House Republican probably won't
Mr. Bachus will apparently need a good lawyer.
Mr. Bachus will apparently need a good lawyer.

Congress' approval rating has already dropped to near-comical depths; new ethics allegations against a powerful House Republican probably won't help matters.

CBS's "60 Minutes" ran a widely-noticed segment recently on the practice of federal lawmakers making investment decisions based on inside information that the public does not have. It was especially unflattering for Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, who was receiving secret briefings on the imminent collapse of the global economy in 2008, and then making dozens of options trades that would make him wealthy as the economy deteriorated, relying on information that other investors didn't have.

As a result, the Office of Congressional Ethics has reportedly launched an investigation into the Alabama Republican's investments.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent investigative agency, opened its probe late last year after focusing on numerous suspicious trades on Bachus's annual financial disclosure forms, the individuals said. OCE investigators have notified Bachus that he is under investigation and that they have found probable cause to believe insider-trading violations have occurred.The case is the first of its kind involving a member of Congress. It comes at a time of intense public scrutiny of congressional ethics, with the House passing legislation Thursday to tighten rules against insider trading by lawmakers.

Those new rules have not yet been approved, but Bachus is apparently facing an ethics probe as a result of existing Securities and Exchange Commission laws.

As this investigation unfolds, it's also worth pausing to appreciate a larger point: there sure are a lot of congressional Republicans facing allegations of misconduct right now.

The Bachus controversy is arguably the highest-profile matter -- in part because of the "60 Minutes" report, and in part because of the power of his committee chairmanship -- but consider some of the other simmering investigations:

* This week, congressional ethics investigators concluded there is "substantial reason to believe" that Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), one of the top Republicans in the House, "violated ethics laws by failing to report his position with a half-dozen firms."

* Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) is facing allegations he accepted illegal campaign contributions during his 2010 campaign, aided by a district supporter who's facing a federal criminal investigation.

* Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), and Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) have been accused of receiving special favors through Countrywide's VIP mortgage program.

The Hill recently flagged several other pending controversies:

* Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.), who is being investigated by the FBI, IRS, Miami-Dade Police Department's public corruption unit, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement over allegations that he abused his former seat in Florida's state House of Representatives for personal financial gain and repeatedly lied on financial disclosure forms.* Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who came under fire last year when a New York Times article raised questions of legality around his former company's dealings.* Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), who is accused of owing $117,000 in child support to his ex-wife, which he did not report on his financial disclosure forms and, if true, would violate House rules.

All of this only refers to ongoing controversies, and doesn't include New York Rep. Chris Lee (R) and Nevada Sen. John Ensign (R), both of whom resigned last year in the wake of sex scandals.

This hasn't quite reached the "culture of corruption" GOP scandals of 2005 and 2006, but it's getting there.