Commentary: Beyond Rep. Joe Wilson's expense reports

The State (Columbia, S.C.)September 10, 2010 

It might very well be that U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson has done nothing wrong during his numerous taxpayer-funded trips to war zones, but he has done plenty wrong in his ham-handed attempts to delegitimize an ongoing ethics investigation into the matter. Consider:

• He began by completely misleading the public as to the nature of the probe, claiming that he was being investigated merely for purchasing "six small tokens of his appreciation — under $2 each — for Afghanistan veterans and their families."

After his campaign made hay of that claim, and after congressional sources told McClatchy Newspapers that investigators were examining Mr. Wilson's use of expense money on his unusually high number of foreign trips — at least 30 in the past eight years — he finally admitted that investigators had asked him about other purchases as well, though he claimed not to be able to remember just what.

• He compounded the deception by casting the investigation as a partisan witch-hunt, for example, calling it "another example of how Nancy Pelosi and her liberal allies have their priorities all wrong in Washington." But the facts simply do not back up that version of events.

Mr. Wilson is one of two Republicans and three Democrats being investigated for their use of tax dollars on taxpayer-funded trips abroad. And the panel investigating Mr. Wilson is not controlled by the speaker, or any other member of Congress. It's composed entirely of people outside the Congress, four Republicans and four Democrats. And while it has riled up members of both parties since it was created in 2008 in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, its biggest critics — and its biggest targets — have been Democrats.

• Finally, in what normally would be galling all on its own but in this case is overshadowed by the deception, Mr. Wilson's staff suggested that any fault lies with the speaker, for not spelling out the rules on how expense money should be used. We agree that Mr. Wilson should not be punished for using government money to buy souvenirs or even to pocket his expense money if that wasn't specifically prohibited, but out here in the real world, we don't need anyone to tell us that "expense" money is for expenses, not gifts, no matter how inexpensive, no matter how worthy the recipients; you use your own money for those purchases.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.thestate.com.

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