Maybe Major League Baseball Should Investigate Congress

Several years ago, Major League Baseball came under scrutiny as reporters and fans became concerned about the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in the game.

What was MLB's response?

In a nutshell: Don't worry, everything is fine, and we can police ourselves. And yes, there may be a bad apple here or there, but trust us, we'll find them and keep it clean!

How did that go?

Really well, if you take "really well" to mean "the widely publicized Mitchell Report that confirmed many of the fans' worst fears, including the alleged use of performance enhancements by Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and many others, tarnishing the careers of all-stars and several surefire Hall of Famers and giving a black eye to the entire sport." Terrific!

And then, as we all know, the U.S. Congress stepped in with hearings to provide some outside, independent oversight into the national pastime.

Funny, isn't it? We've read about a litany of congressional scandals, from Tom DeLay and Duke Cunningham to William Jefferson and Rick Renzi, and many more in between. How many of them have we seen on CSPAN and then the nightly news, sweating it out in a hearing room? Why, none. And whose job is it to oversee and police them? Why, it's Congress's own job, of course!

You'd forgive Clemens and Bonds if they brought a mirror with them at the next hearings, saying, "Look at yourselves."

But this goes beyond a convenient analogy. The parallels are uncanny between the baseball scandals and the congressional scandals. The beginning, of course, is each body insisting that they can police themselves, despite growing evidence to the contrary. (Literally growing: in baseball it was Barry Bonds' head, and in Congress it was Tom DeLay's campaign bank account.)

Meanwhile, polls show a striking downward trend in public opinion. In baseball, over 85 percent of fans think that steroids are a serious problem, some going as far as to say it's ruining the game. In Congress, approval ratings now hover at 23.5 percent.

What to do?

Here's what the Mitchell Report recommended for Major League Baseball:

Independence is the most important principle of an effective drug-testing program. The parties previously have recognized the importance of this principle by delegating some of the administrative authority for the program to an independent program administrator. However, under the current program, both the independence of the program administrator and the level of authority that has been delegated to him are limited.
An anonymous hotline or ethics committee for reporting tips may prove useful. USADA and its counterparts have employed such hotlines for some time and report that they have yielded information that resulted in the detection of drug violations.
Here's what Common Cause and a host of other reform organizations want for Congress:

An independent Office of Congressional Ethics ...

  1. The Office would, for the first time, allow for individuals other than members of Congress to initiate formal investigations into allegations of wrongdoing ...
  2. The proposal calls for reasonable reporting and public disclosure of the activities of the Office. This again improves oversight of the ethics rules by eliminating the absolute secrecy surrounding the existing process. The proposal strikes an appropriate balance between the privacy concerns of those facing allegations and the ability of the public to be informed about the actions of their representatives.
If it's good enough for baseball, it should be good enough for Congress, right?

The bill is on the way in the next 48 hours, and we need them to finally hit a home run on this. They need to do the right thing and create an independent ethics office for Congress.

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