Speed Reads

Politics

House GOP votes to gut independent ethics panel

On Monday, House Republicans voted behind closed doors, 119-74, to curb the power of an independent ethics office established nearly a decade ago in the aftermath of a lobbying scandal.

Should the House rules package be adopted on Tuesday, as expected, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) will be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, and it will be placed under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee, The Washington Post reports. Currently, if the Ethics Committee chooses to not take further action against a member, the OCE is still allowed to release public reports of its findings. The new regime will also end the OCE's power to investigate anonymous complaints and strips it of a spokesperson, but the amendment's sponsor, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), said it "builds upon and strengthens" the office and improves due process rights for House members under investigation. In 2008, when Democrats controlled the House, the OCE was created in the wake of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal to conduct ethics investigations without political influence; while the Ethics Committee is made up of members of Congress, the OCE is run by an independent six-member board.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) opposed the amendment and spoke out against it during the conference meeting, two people in the room told the Post, and several other Republicans fear that reining in the office sends a bad message as the GOP assumes control of the White House as well as Congress. "Threatening its independence is a disservice to the American people who need a nonpartisan body to investigate the ethical failures of their representatives," Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, told the Post. "The fact they do not want an office with 'Congressional Ethics' in the name is a pretty good metaphor for how ethics scandals will be dealt with if this rule passes."