GOP Leaders Won’t Say Whether They Plan to Kill the Office of Congressional Ethics

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010 at 2:36 pm

The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent agency established in 2008 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to launch investigations into congressional improprieties and make recommendations to the House Ethics Committee, seems to be performing its duties so well that it might just be out of a job. The Hill reports that Republican lawmakers, the vast majority of whom voted against the creation of the OCE, will likely attempt to disband the office if Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) becomes Speaker next year.

So far, GOP leaders are attempting to stay mum on the issue. Having gotten a lot of mileage out of decrying the ethics cases surrounding Reps. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), repeatedly accusing Pelosi of not actually “draining the swamp” in Washington as she had promised, Republicans are attempting to avoid headlines that they would seek to loosen up ethics scrutiny in Washington should they take power:

Boehner’s spokesman tried to change the topic when asked whether his boss would keep the OCE if Boehner has the Speaker’s gavel in 2011.

“We are listening to the American people, who are focused on jobs and spending,” said Michael Steel. “This sort of hypothetical hasn’t come up.”

Minority Whip Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) spokesman responded similarly.

“Eric is focused on cutting spending and bringing an end to the cloud of uncertainty that continues to hang over job creators, families, and investors so that people can get back to work,” said Brad Dayspring.

While Boehner and Cantor won’t say anything for certain at present, they both opposed the OCE’s creation and tried to block the measure in March of 2008. The bill passed by a single vote (207-206), and requires reauthorization at the beginning of each congress. Many House Democrats, as well, are hardly pleased with the new office, especially members who faced a recent investigation into their conduct on the eve of the financial reform vote in December, as well as members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC):

CBC members have introduced legislation that would curtail the powers of the OCE, but those proposed modifications were swiftly lambasted by watchdog groups, including Democracy 21 and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington.

Republicans and Democrats in recent weeks have openly ripped the OCE’s investigative tactics amid an investigation into the fundraising activities of a bipartisan group of eight members during the Wall Street reform debate.

Last week, the OCE recommended that the House ethics committee further review Reps. John Campbell (R-Calif.), Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Tom Price (R-Ga.) for fundraisers they held in the days leading up to the House financial reform vote last December. The OCE recommended dismissal of the probes against the five other members.

An ethics office that has roused the ire of both parties would appear to be living up faithfully to its independent watchdog mission. Unfortunately, it serves at the pleasure of the Congress it is tasked with investigating, putting it in a perilous spot come the beginning of the next session.

Follow Jesse Zwick on Twitter


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