Newspaper article Roll Call

Watchdogs Want Stronger Congressional Ethics Office

Newspaper article Roll Call

Watchdogs Want Stronger Congressional Ethics Office

Article excerpt

Despite its small staff of nine and a slim operating budget of about $1.5 million, the Office of Congressional Ethics has managed to achieve tangible victories in the House, according to sources once skeptical the agency could accomplish its mission.

Before its creation, the House Ethics Committee managed allegations of improper conduct by members and staff almost entirely on its own. In the first decade of the Ethics panel's existence, only 10 disciplinary actions were issued. Half occurred from 2006 to 2008, during the time when a scandal surrounding notorious ex- lobbyist Jack Abramoff led to nearly two dozen convictions or guilty pleas.

Between OCE's formation in 2009 and 2014, the House Ethics Committee issued 20 disciplinary actions with the help of the agency's investigations.

That success is outlined in Public Citizen's report titled, "The Case for Independent Ethics Agencies." It's the product of an Ethics Working Group that included the Campaign Legal Center, congressional scholars Norman Ornstein, Thomas Mann and James Thurber, and groups including Common Cause and the National Taxpayers Union.

To the relief of those advocates, OCE is likely here to stay.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., both indicated that the scrappy office will survive when new rules are established in the 114th Congress. But neither leader has publicly committed to changes that outsiders say are necessary to fully investigate allegations of wrongdoing and misconduct by members of Congress.

"Deafening silence," Campaign Legal Center's Meredith McGehee said Wednesday, describing the leaders' responses during a roundtable held in cramped space on the sixth floor of the Longworth House Office Building.

McGehee and other speakers gave credit to Pelosi's team for her early commitment to renewing the office, and to both parties for putting in place strong leadership at OCE, but the advocates say there are still plenty of weaknesses to be corrected. …

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