Open Ethics Hearings on Packwood Unlikely

by Brooke Decker and Amy Rardin, NOW Interns

Former Oregon Supreme Court Justice Betty Roberts, center,joined NOW activists three years ago in urging the Senate not to seat packwood.

In the wake of the disheartening 1994 elections, Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., now stands to gain one of the most coveted positions in the senate, chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

 With Congress controlled by his own party, the likelihood of the new finance chair being effectively investigated, subject to open hearings, for his alleged sexual misconduct is, at best, a long shot. Supported by the new Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole who said, "[Packwood] has problems and has made mistakes, but I don't see why he should be penned up until the ethics committee makes its decision." If the allegations against Packwood are not fully investigated, or investigated behind closed doors, many feminists are left to wonder why, in a previously Democratically-controlled Senate, the Ethics Committee did not actively pursue the accusations against the Oregon senator.

 "It is time to put an end to this long, drawn out ordeal," said NOW President Patricia Ireland. "Justice delayed is justice denied."

 An editorial appearing in The New York Times in November cautioned Republican leaders to think twice about allowing Packwood to head the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Saying that Packwood's lack of cooperation with the committee by "resist[ing] legitimate Ethics Committee requests -- forcing the committee to wage a lengthy legal battle to obtain diaries Mr. Packwood first suggested might contain key evidence for his defense" is a big reason the charges against him have not been resolved. The editorial goes on to say, "For Bob Dole, the Senate GOP leader, to grant Mr. Packwood the honor in an important chairmanship now is inappropriate -- the equivalent of rewarding intransigence."

 Packwood, accused of sexual misconduct by 29 women, became the object of an Ethics Committee investigation in February 1993. The committee, comprised of Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., Richard Bryan, D-Nev., Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Robert Smith, R-N.H., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, was to be restructured in December, as the 104th Congress prepares to take over. The make-up of the Senate Ethics Committee, under Republican control, will very probably change. It seems unlikely there will be an intense probe into the allegations. So the question still remains why did the Democrats not follow through with the investigation?

 In a statement released on Oct. 8, the Ethics Committee explained that the delays on the hearings were due to trouble obtaining tapes and transcripts of the Senator's diaries. The Associated Press reported the committee saying in October that, "Provided the tapes are received and no unforeseen circumstances arise, the committee staff will then prepare the preliminary inquiry report for the presentation to the committee. Any discussion of the future course of the inquiry will occur after the committee receives the report." To date, the committee has not yet accomplished their agenda, and Packwood remains heir to one of the most powerful committees in the Senate.

 Recent Senate votes cast by the new chair show a move away from any support for women's rights issues. While he did vote in support of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and the Violence Against Women Act, he has changed his position on healthcare and voted against an amendment by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Ct., to add "early and effective health care services for pregnant women and children" to former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell's, D-Maine, healthcare bill.

 Packwood fell short on two issues of importance to lesbians and gays when he voted to support a prohibition on immigration for HIV-positive individuals and in support of the compromising "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding lesbians and gays in the military.

 Packwood nearly resigned from office in 1993, until news of his intentions was leaked to the Justice Department leading to a subpena of his personal diaries. As a sitting U.S. Senator, Packwood was in a stronger position to raise funds for his legal defense. As it turns out, the corporate CEO's and lobbyists who contributed the bulk of his more than $275,000 defense fund, have a friend who will now chair the Senate Finance Committee -- which oversees tax policy, trade agreements, tariffs and import quotas.

Return to January 1995 newspaper / Return to NOW Home Page / Search NOW site / Catalog / Send mail to NOW / Join NOW