No Yawning At Ethics Reform This Time

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) walks to the Republican Party luncheon in the U.S. Capitol July 31, 2007 in Washington, DC. Federal agents raided Stevens' Alaska home on Monday as part of an ongoing public corruption investigation. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Weekly commentary by CBS Evening News chief Washington correspondent and Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer.

Congress passed a tough ethics reform bill last week. Washington ethics has become such an oxymoron that ethics reform usually draws a yawn, but it shouldn't this time.

The FBI investigation of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, which coincidentally came to the fore as the bill passed, shows how badly it was needed.

Stevens is no newcomer just learning the rules. He is 83 and the longest serving Republican Senator ever. He is an expert at bringing home federal dollars to his state and, in one case, slipped a secret request into a federal spending bill to obtain 1.6 million dollars for an Alaskan Marine Biology Center.

What raised questions is that the Center then used the money to buy some land from the business partner of Stevens' son.

Legal or not, is that how the rest of us want out tax money spent?

Then there is the other part. The FBI wants to know why an Alaskan Energy Company that does a lot of business with the government, and whose owner has pleaded guilty to bribing state legislators, apparently took over the remodeling of the Senator's house.

The Senator claims no wrongdoing, but who would even put themselves in such a position?

The new law is not perfect, but it will make it harder to do all those things.

As for Stevens, a friend says he sincerely believes he has done nothing wrong. To me, that's the most damning part. If that is what one of the Capitol's longest serving legislators really believes, then there is no question tougher laws were needed.

E-mail Face the Nation.

By Bob Schieffer
  • James Klatell

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