Some House Republicans — apparently led by Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) — are attempting to emasculate the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The House Conference reportedly voted last night 119-74 to place control of OCE under the Ethics Committee, effectively destroying it. The full House is scheduled today to vote on the larger Rules package of which Goodlatte’s amendment is part.
This is an incredibly stupid start to the new Congress, and badly undercuts President-elect Trump’s efforts to “drain the swamp.”
Media reports suggest that Speaker Paul Ryan opposed the move, but there have been reasons for skepticism about the House leadership’s commitment to OCE. It doesn’t matter what happened last night. It is now up to Ryan to save OCE. He must act with strength and decisiveness.
OCE was established in 2008 and is slightly more independent that the Ethics Committee because its board is comprised of former members of Congress and private citizens, rather than sitting members. OCE cannot sanction members but can only make referrals to the Ethics Committee.
Its role and importance were demonstrated in the Rep. Charles Rangel case. Without OCE, Rangel never would have been investigated.
I tagged along on a Rangel-led junket in November 2008 to sunny St. Maarten in the Caribbean. I snapped photos and made audio recordings evidencing that the event was underwritten by big corporations like Citigroup, in violation of House Rules. OCE took up the case, produced a detailed report based on my materials, and referred it to the Ethics Committee for action. The Ethics Committee “admonished” Rangel who was forced to resign his Ways and Means Chairmanship in the ensuing media swirl. Rangel would later be Censured by the entire house.
Of course, the Ethics Committee would have cleared Rangel if not for the initial media coverage of the trip generated by NLPC, and the subsequent media coverage of OCE’s report. One virtue of OCE is its ability to make public its investigative product, putting the House Ethics Committee on the spot. This is exactly why OCE has been targeted for extinction.