“Uh….About That Ethics Committee”

Posted on June 11, 2010


Three and a half years ago, when Nancy Pelosi crowned herself Queen of the Most Ethical, Open and Honest Congress Ever, she promised to “drain the GOP swamp” of all the bad characters in Washington and set a new standard of ethics and transparency for lawmakers.

Two years later, putting teeth into her pledge, the House enacted H. Res. 895 which established the Office of Congressional Ethics.  This was a big deal as it was the first time an outside committee (not congresscritters themselves) would be reviewing the alleged ethics violations of lawmakers.  Previously, only the House Ethics Committee was charged with reviewing alleged ethics violations, in effect, making members of Congress police themselves.  Good work if you can get it, huh?

But now, after complaints from the Congressional Black Caucus, Speaker Pelosi is looking to possibly change the rules of the Office of Congressional Ethics which she helped to create.  From The Hill:

During the meeting with Pelosi last month, Reps. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) complained about the treatment they received from OCE investigators, CBC sources said. Richardson has been under OCE investigation for allegedly improper gifts involved in a mortgage on her Sacramento home, and Waters faces questions about intervening with the Treasury Department on behalf of a bank with ties to her husband.

It seems the formation of the new committee has led to some “unintended consequences”:

At the meeting, which was also attended by CBC lawmaker and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), sources said Pelosi heard complaints about the OCE’s new powers and investigation tactics.

Pelosi and Clyburn were sympathetic, because the OCE has produced some unintended consequences, according to two sources in the room.

And:

Some legislators have complained that when the House ethics committee rejects an OCE recommendation to investigate a member, the OCE findings are sometimes made public and tarnish the lawmaker’s reputation.

While amending the OCE is being considered, making such changes now would be politically difficult because Republicans are citing Democratic ethics scandals in their effort to retake control of the House.

It seems that those under investigation are not happy when their own self-policing committee clears them, but the independent committee’s findings are made public.  What’s wrong with this picture?  Are they seriously asking us to believe them because they say so and ignore the findings of an outside and independent review?  What is wrong with the OCE’s findings being made public if the Congressperson has done nothing wrong?

Nancy Pelosi, folding to the pressure, has let Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio)head up the effort to craft possible rule changes to the OCE.  Included in the proposed changes are:

 Fudge’s measure would restrict the OCE’s power to comment publicly on cases that it dismisses, prevent the ethics committee from releasing the OCE findings if it too finds no evidence of wrongdoing and limit public complaints to witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the allegations.

While I’m no Nancy Pelosi supporter, I have to give her kudos in the establishment of the OCE.  But the fact that she is now considering rewriting the rules because those on her own side of the aisle are complaining reeks of politics as usual.

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Posted in: Congress