Taking your work home can get you fired

News broke late last night that a pair of southern California Congresswomen are under investigation by the House ethics committee. The Congresswomen are both Democrats - Laura Richardson of Long Beach and Maxine Waters of Los Angeles. The allegations aren't new: Richardson is accused of getting preferential treatment related to a foreclosure; Waters is accused of using her political clout for personal gain in the bank meltdown.

What is news is how we all found out about it.

Ethics investigations are notoriously secret. Committee members take an oath promising not to reveal anything about its investigations. Complaints weren't even taken up by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct unless they came from another member of Congress. That's why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set up a second ethics committee, the Office of Congressional Ethics, which does take complaints from citizens, interest groups, etc. Those complaints are now considered by the primary ethics committee.

There is a reason for the secrecy: it's an investigation, not a pronouncement of guilt. News of investigations usually break when those back in the district being questioned about the allegations start talking. Not this time.

The news about Richardson and Waters and seven members on the House Appropriations Committee came to light because a junior staffer on the Standards of Official Conduct was working from home and apparently put the 22 page committee report on a publicly accessible computer network. Somebody spotted it and sent a copy to the Washington Post. Before the Yankees-Phillies game was over Thursday night, staffers for the accused Congresswomen were sending out statements.

Meanwhile, the ethics committee is looking at its practices and procedures.

The staffer was fired.

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