Discuss as:

Plagiarism or unethical behavior?

From NBC's Shawna Thomas
The names Rivera and Lee have already given the new GOP House majority headaches when it comes to ethical behavior, either alleged or real. And now you might be able to add another name: Hanna -- as in Rep. Richard Hanna.

Hanna, a freshman congressman from New York’s 24th District, published a commentary in the Syracuse Post-Standard on Feb. 20 explaining why he didn’t vote for extensions of certain provisions of the Patriot Act when it was brought to the floor last week. Congressional commentary explaining one’s position is standard. But what about publishing a piece where sections appear to be lifted from a CATO Institute blog?

For example, Hanna wrote in his commentary:

As drafted currently, the Patriot Act includes “lone wolf” authority that allows non-citizens in our country who are suspected of involvement in terrorist activities to be monitored under the broad powers afforded by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), even if they are not connected to any overseas terror group or other “foreign power.”

And here's the CATO blog, penned by Julian Sanchez:

So-called “lone wolf” authority allows non-citizens in the U.S. who are suspected of involvement in terrorist activities to be monitored under the broad powers afforded by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), even if they are not connected to any overseas terror group or other “foreign power.”

Here's another passage from Hanna:

Finally, the Patriot Act expanded the authority of the FISA Court to compel the production of business records or any other “tangible thing.” Previously, such orders were limited to narrow classes of businesses and records, and required a showing of specific facts that the records sought pertain to an agent of a foreign power.”

And CATO's Sanchez:

Section 215 expanded the authority of the FISA Court to compel the production of business records or any other “tangible thing.” While previously such orders were limited to narrow classes of businesses and records, and required a showing of “specific and articulable facts” that the records sought pertain to an agent of a foreign power, Patriot stripped away those limits.

Hanna’s office maintains that this is not plagiarism. “Representative Hanna reaches out to a lot of policy experts, and he and Mr. Sanchez are closely aligned on the issue of the Patriot Act. Mr. Hanna sought Mr. Sanchez’s expert advice on this issue, and he offered his assistance for this particular piece.”

Sanchez backed up that claim on Twitter and in a follow-up email, in which he stated, “My post at Cato’s blog on the three expiring Patriot Act provisions drew on a short summary I wrote up for congressional offices—Rep. Hanna’s among them—that had asked me to help pinpoint the central issues in the renewal debate. Rep. Hanna’s office asked if they could adapt that summary for an op-ed, which I happily gave them permission to do after seeing a draft of the piece (this was on the 16th, I believe). As far as I’m concerned, this is a pretty routine case of legislators adapting analysis from outside experts in explaining policy issues to their constituents.”

But should Hanna's commentary still have cited Sanchez, or at least disclosed his role in the piece? James Thurber, a professor at American University’s Center for Congressional Studies thinks it is, in his words, “a question of ethics.”  

He said that members of Congress and their staffs have orientations on ethics, and he even helped co-author some of the member handbooks detailing the behavioral rules of Congress.  During the latest orientation, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) stated clearly in a document prepared for new Members that it was the job of the Republicans to “bring real reform to the House and not tolerate the mistakes and ethical lapses of our previous majority.” And in the much longer handbook, The Hill reported last year that there was advice such as “Don’t tolerate or enable ethical missteps. They are one of the easiest ways to short-circuit a congressional career.” And: “If you don’t want to see an activity or event reported on the front page of the local newspaper, don’t do it.”

Thurber reiterated that this is something members and their staffs have to be “exceedingly careful about... He’s a public figure that should be careful.” Thurber continued, “It's certainly not something that the congressman would want to have his children doing... He should be setting a much higher standard."

It's a standard Speaker John Boehner has said he expects from his members. “I believe that members of Congress should be held to the highest ethical standards, that's what the American people expect," he said after former Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY) resigned after the married congressman sent a shirtless photo of him to a woman he met on a CraigsList dating site. 

Boehner’s office had no immediate comment on Hanna’s situation. The Syracuse Post-Standard confirmed that they are researching this story and confirmed that that the commentary posted on their Web site is the same that appeared in the physical newspaper Sunday. 

Interestingly, this may not be Congressman Hanna’s first time cribbing CATO. Last year, the National Interest published a piece by Benjamin Friedman, in which he accused Hanna of stealing a line from a paper he co-wrote that was published in 2008.

Said Friedman: "In February 2008 Cato published 'Learning the Right Lessons from Iraq,' a paper I wrote with Harvey Sapolsky and Chris Preble... One line in the paper summed up our view this way: 'The military gives us the power to conquer foreign countries, but not the power to run them.'"

More from Friedman: "I remember thinking that was a good line when I wrote it. So, evidently, did Richard Hanna, a Republican who just got elected to Congress representing New York’s 24th District. In the speech he gave announcing his unsuccessful candidacy for the same seat in 2008, he said: 'The military gives us the power to conquer countries but not the power to run them.'"

Hat tip to Taegan Goddard, who first noted this Hanna-Sanchez controversy.