Double Duty

Posted April 1, 2008 at 5:09pm

If you happen to see Rep. Albert Wynn walking around the halls of Congress, whom do you see exactly — the 15-year Representative from Maryland, defeated in the Democratic primary, who’s planning to quit Congress in June? Or the newest partner-to-be at the big lobbying law firm Dickstein Shapiro, with multiple interests before Congress?

You could ask the same sort of question about Jerry Hurckes, Chicago-based chief of staff for Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), who also happens to be on the governing board of the village of Oak Lawn, Ill., and brags — as a candidate for mayor –– that he’s used his Congressional job to secure perks for the town.

Wynn claims that he got clearance from the House ethics committee to begin negotiating for his Dickstein Shapiro job after he lost his primary in February, but he refuses to disclose the document. He has filed a recusal form with the Clerk of the House certifying he will avoid actions that will create the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Still, Wynn has created a political mess for his constituents — who will either be put through an expensive special election to choose his successor or go unrepresented for six months. And ethics watchdog Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 brands him “a walking conflict-of-interest” and says Wynn ought to resign from the Energy and Commerce Committee or be removed.

We agree. Dickstein Shapiro, according to recent filings, has 35 separate clients with who-knows-what issues that may arise before the Energy and Commerce Committee. Will Wynn even know when not to vote on a matter? When he does vote, will outsiders be confident that he has no conflict? If members of the committee are privately discussing how to dispose of a matter of interest to a client, will he leave the room — or be tempted to let his firm in on what he knows?

The case of Hurckes seems to involve no question marks at all — and deserves an investigation by the ethics committee. Ethics rules do not bar aides from holding elective office but warn that “staff should take care … to avoid any undertaking that is inconsistent with congressional responsibilities”

And, “in dealing with the public, staff who serve as local officials should always make clear in which capacity they are acting. They should discourage any suggestion that their local constituents will receive any special treatment from the congressional office, beyond that received by any other residents of the congressional district.”

Yet, in a 2007 mailer sent to local voters, Hurckes took credit for securing $4 million in federal funding for the village, including money for the Oak Lawn Children’s Museum and emergency traffic lighting.

During a March 11 trustees meeting recorded on videotape, Hurckes repeatedly used the phrase “It was I who …” in ticking off federal projects obtained by the village, including Army Corps of Engineers help with flooding problems.

Hurckes denied securing earmarks and Lipinski refused any comment after stories on the aide’s activities appeared in Roll Call and local papers. They ought to answer to the ethics committee.