House Republicans on Monday quietly voted to strip the independent power from an outside ethics panel established eight years ago following a string of corruption scandals, a move they made just hours before the start of the 115th Congress. A measure defanging the Office of Congressional Ethics, authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, will now be included in the House Rules package, which is poised for a Tuesday afternoon vote before the entire House.
The provision’s most important feature changes the OCE from an independent entity to a body that falls under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee, a 10-member, bipartisan committee of lawmakers that rarely hands out serious punishment. Goodlatte’s provision renames the OCE the “Office of Congressional Complaint Review,” and said the changes were needed because lawmakers have been subjected to investigations provoked by partisan outside groups.
The move was incompetent, as it is terrible public relations and undermines the public trust. I’d call it straight-up unethical as well, because it constitutes the appearance of impropriety, which is prohibited by House ethics rules already.
Then, that evil, fascist President-Elect Donald Trump tweeted…
“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it … may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS,
- I can’t wait to see how the Rabid Anti-Trump forces spin this. There has to be something wrong with it—oh, of course! It proves that he’s an autocrat and a dictator! All he has to do is tweet, and his fascist party falls into line!
- Does Trump have any idea how the House ethics system works (or doesn’t, to be more accurate)? Of course not, and it doesn’t matter. The measure looked bad, and that’s enough. He understood that much.
- Let’s not get carried away, however. NPR hyperventilated, House Republicans vote to eviscerate the Office of Congressional Ethics, as if the House ethics system was actually worth a damn. It isn’t. The system currently allows outrageous corruption. Punishment is minimal. Dozens of House members are involved in corrupt activities that have been well-documented, and complaints languish in committees for years. NPR’s headline makes it appear that the proposed move would open the door to corruption without consequences. That door is already open wide. Members get punished for ethics violations when the news media reports on it clearly and consistently. The current OCE hardly has “fangs” to “defang.”
- It wasn’t nearly as well-publicized—I wonder why?—but the last time there was an effort to gut the OCE, it was the Congressional Black Caucus that tried it—you know, the Democrats. Why did the Congressional Black Caucus have it in for the OCE? Well, a disproportionate number of its members were being investigated for ethics problems., that’s why, so the principle of “disparate impact” applied. When that failed, Congressional Black Caucus member (and one-time target of an OCE investigation) Rep. Mel Watt, who has since been defeated, sought to add an amendment to the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill that would have cut OCE’s funding by 40 percent. I wrote about the effort in 2011.
- Is a weak, toothless, deceptively ineffective system of ethics oversight better than no system at all? I wonder. I think the current system provides cover more than anything else. Still. Congress seems more ethical with an independent OCE. That’s something.