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Lawmaker ethics. An oxymoron?

Democrats promised to make Congress more ethical. Did they succeed? A little ... maybe.

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A decisive issue in the 2006 congressional campaign – corruption in Washington – now falls well behind gas prices and the economy as a theme in Campaign 2008, and reformers are worried.

The landmark reforms adopted early in the 110th Congress set a higher ethical bar for members of Congress. But with public interest on ethical issues cooling, activists worry that lawmakers are already finding ways around the new rules and that reforms needed to continue the process will not be forthcoming in the next Congress.

"It's unclear if the new rules have fundamentally changed the climate in Washington," says Keith Ashdown with Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based think tank.

"Corruption and ethics still matter – just ask someone in Alaska – but it's a second-tier issue to the economy," he says. The key question is whether "the leadership remembers to follow up on the strides they made in reforming how Congress does its business."

There's no lack of high-profile corruption cases on Capitol Hill. Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska faces charges of filing false financial disclosure reports on some $250,000 in gifts from an oil services company. Mr. Stevens also faces a tough primary race on Aug. 26.

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