House Republicans have now scrapped plans to obliterate the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). I want to thank everyone who registered their outrage about this plan, your voices made a difference today. As the Chair of the Task Force that wrote the measure creating the OCE, I am relieved it is not being dismantled today. But make no mistake, the effort to gut the OCE is a stark example of House Republicans’ approach to governing. Unfortunately, I think we will see a lot more of this in the days and weeks ahead. I won’t stop fighting and I hope you will stay active too.
January 3, 2017
Outrageous — there is just no other word to describe gutting the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which is the very first act of the new Republican House. Not the economy, not jobs, not transportation, not even repealing the Affordable Care Act. No, Republicans are starting the year off by crushing the independent House ethics office.
When I wrote the law establishing the independent OCE the whole point was to bring a measure of transparency and accountability to the broken House ethics process. The OCE operates independently of the House Ethics Committee, with the authority to choose which matters merit review.
The practical result of the Republican measure to bring the OCE under the authority of the House Ethics Committee is to render it ineffective. The transparency, accountability and independence of the OCE will be demolished, which is of course the real intention of this rules change.
Heck – even President-elect Donald Trump has chastised House Republicans for their proposal to gut the OCE.
Every outside ethics watchdog group (both conservative and liberal leaning) described the OCE as “the most important improvement in the House ethics enforcement process since the House Ethics Committee was established.” Yes, I wrote the law creating the Office of Congressional Ethics and I am very proud of it. But that quote is from a coalition of outside ethics watchdogs made up of Common Cause, CREW (most definitely NOT a left leaning group), US PIRG, Judicial Watch (another right leaning group), and several other well respected groups.
The most important aspect of the OCE is to ensure transparency in the ethics process. Prior to its creation, many complaints were simply buried – maybe people were innocent, maybe not – but no one ever knew what happened. Because of the OCE, after a well-defined and fair process, America learned if a Member of the House had a complaint investigated and they also learned the outcome of that complaint.
The OCE is not perfect and certainly some minor tweaking of the process may be in order, but the key word here is minor. Any tweaking should be done in public, so the America people can see the debate for themselves. If House Republicans bothered to read the report recommending creation of the OCE they would find that very suggestion at the end of it – “The Task Force recommends … a panel of Members to conduct an ongoing review of the ethics process.” Here is that report; see page 21 for more on that recommendation.
The amendment demolishing the OCE was never publicly discussed. It was proposed and adopted inside a secretive Republican Caucus without anyone outside that meeting knowing it was even going to be debated.
This is not a good way to start – a closed meeting of one Party, held at night, in the basement of the US Capitol, for the purpose of ending transparency in the ethics process.
Personally, I have never witnessed such a rapid march back to the bad old days of the good-old-boys club.