House Guts Office Of Congressional Ethics

Top House Dems Refer To House Of Representatives Vote As A ‘Green Light To Congressional Corruption’

Congressional members that do not want to be accused of corruption have come up with a solution, a new proposal to gut the Independent Office of Congressional Ethics reports CNN. Yahoo News reports that top Democrats are infuriated with the rushed last minute move on Monday night. Chris Carson, President of the League of Women Voters, reportedly said that House Speaker Paul Ryan should be ashamed of himself for “giving a green light to congressional corruption.”

But CNN says that Speaker Ryan opposed the move. Even so, the proposal last night was a vote of 119-74 in favor of the proposal that effectively guts the independent congressional watchdog that investigates congressional corruption.

It was a proposal put forth by Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, who wants the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) undercut. The OCE was launched in March 2008 after Republican Rep. Randy Cunningham of California served seven years prison time for bribery charges. Another Republican, Bob Ney of Ohio, also pled guilty to corruption charges after an investigation of the OCE.

Goodlatte’s proposal bars the OCE from investigation of any criminal accusations against members of Congress, and turns over all allegations or accusations to the House Ethics Committee. If the accusations are serious enough, they would instead be turned over to appropriate federal law enforcement.

But the new proposal also forbids the House Ethics Committee from even appointing a public spokesperson or communications representative to speak to the public on allegations of corruption, thus eliminating a branch of transparency on corruption allegations. And, if a member of Congress is accused of corruption, the House Ethics Committee would reportedly now have the power to stop any investigation into those allegations in its tracks.

Anonymous tips from whistleblowers are also now no longer allowed under this proposal. So if a congressional member is accused of corruption by an anonymous whistleblower, that tip will effectively be dismissed. A full vote from the House of Representatives on the topic is expected Tuesday, reports CNN.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia says that this move will “strengthen the mission” of the OCE. The OCE will not be eliminated entirely, but will remain as a body to review violations that come up. In a written statement Goodlatte said the following.

“It also improves upon due process rights for individuals under investigation, as well as witnesses called to testify. The (ethics office) has a serious and important role in the House, and this amendment does nothing to impede their work.”

Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi highly criticized the move, saying ethics were the first casualty of the new Republican Congress. CNN reports that she said the following in a statement after last night’s vote.

“Republicans claim they want to drain the swamp, but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress. The amendment the Republicans approved tonight would functionally destroy this office [OCE].”

Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren also criticized the move in a series of tweets last night.

Republican Representative Hal Rogers, the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said this was the right thing to do, citing numerous examples of congressional members that were “falsely accused by this group [OCE] and had to spend a fortune to get their good name restored so I think there’s been an abuse.”

Republican Representative Bill Flores of Texas called the OCE “out of control” and does not like that the tips going in about Congress accused of corruption are anonymous.

Both parties in Congress are accusing the other of making partisan allegations of corruption. The intent of the OCE is to investigate all allegations in an independent and bipartisan manner. Outside ethics offices are saying that the independent OCE is the only real ethics group that can oversee investigations in a bipartisan way.

Chris Carson, President of the League of Women Voters, weighed in.

“Gutting the independent ethics office is exactly the wrong way to start a new Congress. This opens the door for special interest corruption just as the new Congress considers taxes and major infrastructure spending.”

Yahoo News reports that Carson continued with the following.

“We all know the so-called House Ethics Committee is worthless for anything other than a whitewash — sweeping corruption under the rug. That’s why the independent Office of Congressional Ethics has been so important. The OCE works to stop corruption and that’s why Speaker Ryan is cutting its authority. Speaker Ryan is giving a green light to congressional corruption.”

Richard Painter of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says the OCE plays a critical role in overseeing congressional ethics.

“If the 115th Congress begins with rules amendments undermining (the ethics office) it is setting itself up to be dogged by scandals and ethics issues for years and is returning the House to dark days when ethics violations were rampant and far too often tolerated.”

[Feature Image by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images]

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