WHO'S ON THE COMMITTEE?
The six-member Senate ethics panel is, on balance, a socially conservative group.
The chairwoman, Barbara Boxer of California, is strongly liberal on social policy. She also is a fierce partisan more than willing to highlight what she considers Republican hypocrisy on social values issues.
The other Democrats, Ken Salazar of Colorado and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, are self-described moderates who represent more conservative states.
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All three of the committee's Republicans -John Cornyn of Texas, Pat Roberts of Kansas and Johnny Isakson of Georgia - are social conservatives displeased by the cloud Sen. Larry Craig's scandal has cast on the party.
While congressional ethics panels operate largely behind closed doors because of the sensitive nature of their inquiries, the Senate panel's annual report for 2007 gives a glimpse of the scope of what they considered last year: 95 alleged violations of Senate rules considered last year, but no public or private admonitions or sanctions issued.
Most of the complaints were dismissed.
WHAT DOES THE COMMITTEE DO?
On Wednesday, the panel publicly admonished Craig.
An admonition is the least serious finding the Senate Ethics Committee can make. In fact, the Senate Ethics Manual says a public or private letter of admonition by the committee is not considered discipline. But by going public with the letter and wording it strongly, the committee can send a similar message.
The manual says that if "substantial credible evidence is found, but the alleged violation is inadvertent, technical or otherwise of a de minimis nature, the matter may be disposed of by a public or private letter of admonition, which is not considered discipline and is not subject to appeal to the Senate."
("De minimis" is a Latin expression meaning about minimal things. In a formal legal sense, it means something which is unworthy of the law's attention.)
Other, more serious actions could include recommending expulsion, censure, payment of restitution, loss of seniority or positions of responsibility, or a combination.
Among the panel's prominent admonitions in recent years was that of then-Sen. Bob Torricelli in 2002 for improper gifts accepted from a businessman and campaign contributor.
McClatchy News Service