05/20/2010 03:16 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Souder Response Highlights New Focus On Ethics Process

If you're wondering how it happened that Representative Mark Souder (R-Ind.) was shuttled into the spotlight of scandal and out of his seat in Congress with such head-spinning alacrity, it's because as soon as Souder's Indiana Republican colleague heard that Souder was shtupping a staffer, he did the right thing and immediately notified the ethics committee.

It's all part of what TPM calls a "New House Ethics Paradigm":

Taking that step appears to be part of a new M.O. when leadership hears about an allegation of misconduct: tell the ethics committee quickly to inoculate yourself and your party against accusations of inaction later on.

"That's the new standard: the leadership ratting out its members where there's an allegation of misconduct," Stan Brand, a former House general counsel, tells TPMmuckraker.

And while Souder's affair with a staffer is not on its face a violation of House rules, leadership would want to hedge in case there's more to the story (say, sexual harassment or improper use of taxpayer money), or even against the appearance of condoning bad behavior.

Basically, this has all evolved from the slow responses given to similar sex scandals, such as Mark Foley's questionable Congressional Page Outreach And Sexty Instant Messages Program, and the more recent Eric Massa Tickle-Tackle Tacky Tactics. As Justin Elliott notes, in the latter case, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was quicker to respond, giving Massa's staff notice "that if they did not bring the matter to the ethics committee within 48 hours, he would," but the Washington Post nevertheless reported that concerns were raised about Massa to Nancy Pelosi's office months prior.

Both cases generated all manner of criticism, and so now we have a new paradigm, where sexual misconduct will get you ratted out with lightning speed.

Naturally, the only sort of ethical breach that seems to fall into this new way of doing business is the one that involve the hot hot sex. No one's talking about doing away with the culture of industry gifting and K Street firms will still be able to send lobbyists -- who are human versions of sex dolls stuffed with money -- along on their appointed trysts. So, basically, your heroic Congresscritters will still be able to screw people, just not with their penises. Kind of a mixed bag, really!

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