In the cover of darkness, behind closed doors, the House Republican voted to cripple the Office Congressional Ethics (OCE) by making it accountable to the very people they are charged to investigate.
Less than 24 hours before the House convenes and votes on its rules for the 115th Congress, Republicans adopted an amendment Monday night, 119 to 74, from Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that would fundamentally change the OCE. The independent ethics board investigates complaints against members and issues reports to the Ethics Committee.
Specifically, the amendment would place the OCE under the “oversight” of the lenient Ethics Committee and rename it the Office of Congressional Complaint Review. The new group would no longer be able to release information to the public, employ anyone “for a position involving communications with the public,” or directly contact law enforcement without approval. It would also be prohibited from investigating anonymous complaints.
The office was established in 2008 after a number of high profile scandals involving pay for play by house members and their staff.
The OCE opened dozens of reviews, based on publicly available information, submissions from the public, press accounts and other sources of information. This included the multiple ethical and criminal violations stemming from, among others, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and former representatives Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, Mark Foley and William J. Jefferson.
In 2010, the Sunlight Foundation noted “More than anything else the Office of Congressional Ethics has helped to reveal to the public the patent absurdity of the self-policing oversight that members provide through the House Ethics Committee.”
Rep. Goodlatte tried to claim, incorrectly, that his amendment would strengthen the OCE. It doesn’t and BuzzFeed has six reasons that thoroughly debunk Goodlatte’s statement.
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) January 3, 2017
Of course, after being exposed by the media and outrage on social media, Donald Trump waded into the fray expressing his displeasure, not so much about the choice to gut OCE which he called “unfair,” but the optics of the move that took the spotlight off his agenda to line his pockets and those of his friends and destroy the economy and healthcare.
This morning after the bad headlines, social media backlash and threat of internal revolt, GOP leadership held a hurried meeting that stripped the OCE amendment from the rules. This is not a dead issue.
Leaders told members they would instead work with Democrats to come up with a proposal to reform the OCE before the August recess, though a number of Republicans were unsatisfied by the promise.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he would now work to completely abolish the Office of Congressional Ethics, citing concerns over anonymous whistleblowers making accusations against members and the OCE leaking information to the press.
Asked to provide an example of the OCE leaking information to the press, King failed to come up with one and got testy.
“Just google it,” he said.
This is going to be busy year.