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Published: Sunday, 6/4/2006

Ethics down for the count

Explaining that he's "not Goody Two-Shoes," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid used a loophole in Senate ethics rules to snap up thousands of dollars worth of ringside boxing match tickets that the Nevada Athletic Commission handed to him.

Fellow Nevada Sen. John Ensign joined him at one of the fights, also sneaking through the loophole to nab a ticket worth hundreds of dollars.

The two Nevada senators - Mr. Not-Goody-Two-Shoes Reid, a Democrat, and Mr. Ensign, a Republican - illustrate for the entire country that ethical impropriety knows no party and that ethical reformation is desperately needed in Washington.

The Senate ethics manual specifies that a senator may not accept a gift valued at more than $50 - except when it's offered by a federal, state, or local government.

Mr. Not-Goody-Two-Shoes Reid and Mr. Ensign took the tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission - a state government agency. So, in their view, no problem. They're permitted to accept unlimited entertainment, gifts, and meals from the commission.

Somehow, under the Senate's rules for itself, the commission, which was attempting to persuade senators not to adopt federal legislation to regulate boxing, is different from corporate-funded lobbyists trying to purchase senators' votes.

Mr. Ensign argues it was just fine for him to accept the gift since he'd already recused himself from voting on that legislation because his father was an executive from a Las Vegas hotel that hosts fights. Even so, senators shouldn't be taking pricey gifts, no matter the source.

And Sen. John McCain, a Republican from nearby Arizona, apparently understands that. He attended a 2004 bout with Mr. Reid but paid $1,400 for his seat.

While technically the ethics rules may allow senators to accept infinite gifts from governments, the code also says they must avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Taking high-value presents from a group seeking to court his influence will hardly impress most Americans who don't want the rich and powerful, whether they're corporations or government agencies, to be able to buy the attention of politicians - who in theory are representatives of the people.

Mr. Reid needs to reimburse the Nevada Athletic Commission - and then get to work closing loopholes in those Senate ethics rules.

If he can't, he needs to put on his no-good shoes, walk back to Nevada, and stay there.

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