Montana Sen. Max Baucus (D), 67, is retiring rather than face reelection in 2014. The decision will spare a campaign that would have reignited controversies over his use of his office to benefit his live-in girlfriend. We have previously discussed the controversy. In addition to giving Melodee Hanes, 53, generous raises as a staffer, Baucus pushed to have her selected as U.S. Attorney. What is most notable about this story is that it was not ethics that pushed Baucus from office despite the documented work for his girlfriend. He was allowed to continued unimpeded despite news accounts of his work for Hanes. His success in avoiding any serious repercussions in the scandal will no doubt emboldened his colleagues in the use of their office to benefit friends and family members. The two married in 2011.
Whatever the qualifications of Hanes, it was absolutely unethical for Baucus to use his position to benefit his girlfriend.
Hanes divorced her husband of 12 years, Dr. Thomas Bennett, in December 2008. She was given a top position at the Justice Department. It is not clear if Baucus helped with that position as well.
Baucus separated from his ex-wife, Wanda, in March 2008 and moved out of their home. Hanes separated from her husband in April 2008. Baucus divorced his second wife, Wanda, in April after 25 years.
He was previously criticized for giving a huge raise to Hanes while she worked for him as a staffer.
I have previously written about the sordid state of congressional ethics. Senators have routinely used their office and connections to benefit family members. This included Sen. Jim Bunning (R, Ky) lobbying for a judgeship for his son who was viewed as “unqualified” by the ABA.
Baucus is a towering example of how ethics really does not matter in American politics. It is not clear how important the scandal would have been in this reelection fight. The message received by his colleagues however could not be more clear. You can push for high-level positions for your family and intimate friends with little concern over ethics. You are a member of the world’s most elite club and ethics are not a prerequisite. His survival from this scandal, if anything, could well make him an inspiration rather than an embarrassment for some of his colleagues.