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No Wonder McKinley Is Upset

Most of us follow the advice our attorneys give us. Even if we don’t like what they say, it’s usually best to do what they tell us.

But not always, as Congressman David McKinley has learned.

McKinley, R-W.Va., represents this area of the state in the House of Representatives. He also lives in Wheeling and for many years operated a business, McKinley and Associates, here. The company provides engineering and architectural services.

Not long after he was elected to the House in 2010, McKinley learned to his astonishment and considerable annoyance that his company was a problem. Under House rules, he was going to be required to sell the company or change its name — or so he thought.

His attorney thought the same thing.     McKinley already had sold part of the firm to an employee stock ownership program. Many Ohio Valley residents are familiar with ESOPs. In effect, they mean the people who work at a company also own it.

Upon hearing of the mandate by the House Committee on Ethics, McKinley decided that since he already was involved in an ESOP, he’d go ahead and sell the remaining 70 percent of his company to the employees. He did, and the firm continues to do business as McKinley and Associates.

That landed the congressman in hot water this week. The ethics panel issued a formal “reproval” of him for failing to change the company’s name before selling it. One wonders what the committee would have done had McKinley changed the name to, say, ABC Associates and the new owners had changed it back.

A committee report on the matter goes to some lengths to emphasize that the problem occurred because McKinley accepted his lawyer’s advice. He was rebuked for a mistake, not for a genuine conflict of interest or any other intentional wrongdoing.

No action other than issuance of the reproval was or will be taken, according to the committee report. Clearly, at least some of the panel’s members understand the relative triviality of the situation.

Still, McKinley is right to be annoyed for several reasons, including the fact the House panel chose to issue is reproval just weeks before an election. Lawmakers on the committee, along with its staff, understand very well that some voters won’t acquaint themselves with details of what happened. They’ll just read the headline.

McKinley has been a strong voice for the First Congressional District and, in fact, our entire state. I have no doubt he’ll win re-election handily.

Still, voters ought to put his mistake in perspective.

Ever hear of Alcee Hastings? He’s a congressman from Florida. He was a U.S. District Court judge for about 10 years, until he was charged with perjury and accepting a $150,000 bribe.

The evidence against him was strong enough that in 1988, the Democrat-controlled House voted 413-3 to impeach him. In overwhelming votes, the Senate found him guilty of 11 of the 17 accusations against him, and removed him from office.

Hastings was acquitted of criminal charges after his alleged co-conspirator, William Borders, refused to testify against him. Borders was convicted and sent to prison. Another Democrat, President Bill Clinton, pardoned him on his last day in office in 2001.

Yet Hastings sits in the same chamber with McKinley — as do a variety of other lawmakers with very real conflicts of interest. The Ethics Committee is involved in several investigations of alleged intentional wrongdoing.

Heck, it’s entirely possible our next president will be Hillary Clinton, who happens to have a whopping conflict of interest.

So no wonder our congressman is upset.

One does wonder, however, whether ethics panel lawmakers or staff have ever read a certain section of the Bible — the one about straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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