Wednesday, 22 November, 2017

Attempt to weaken ethics office sends wrong message

House GOP votes in favor of proposal that weakens Congress' ethics watchdog House GOP Votes to Strip Ethics Office of Independent Status
Edmund Wade | 09 January, 2017, 00:53

Before he was even sworn in, Tennessee's newest congressman, David Kustoff, had to wrestle with an ethics question: Could he support a Republican plan to effectively kill an independent ethics office that investigates potential wrongdoing by lawmakers? As the 115th Congress kicked off on Tuesday, House Republicans held an emergency meeting and chose to drop the plan.

Some House Republicans, including Representative Dennis Ross of Florida, said there had been some concerns raised during the closed-door meeting Monday night of the optics of placing new limitations on a government watchdog days before Trump takes office. We were only kidding, they said. The Ethics Committee concluded Young did nothing wrong, but they changed the rules to disallow contributions like that in the future.

McGehee, in turn, said she is going to focus on just keeping the OCE independent and transparent, by reminding House members that it benefits them. Unexpected victory has helped the party sublimate its factional quarrels and the misgivings many still have about Trump, but those are bound to flare up again.

All too often, people of public spirit who would make ideal candidates are discouraged from running by the horrors of perpetual fundraising - the vise of money in politics - not to mention the spotlight shone on every small detail of their personal and professional lives.

The about-face came as lawmakers convened for the first day of the 115th Congress, an occasion normally reserved for pomp and ceremony under the Capitol Dome. Plenty of politicians who get into trouble have chosen to resign rather than wait for the voters' verdict, while many others have simply chosen not to run for re-election.

The package approved Monday also includes a means for Republican leaders to punish lawmakers if there is a repeat of the Democratic sit-in last summer over gun control. After all, there is little serious vetting in most House elections. After near-universal public rebuke, the measure was pulled Tuesday.

"If a representative is accused of something or a complaint is filed against them, they should have the right to know who their accuser is", said Kustoff, a former US attorney for West Tennessee.

In fact, the proposal would have prevented the ethics office from speaking publicly or to law enforcement about its work without the approval of the very lawmakers it was created to watch over.

Mr Goodlatte defended the action in a statement, saying it would strengthen ethics oversight in the House while also giving politicians better protections against what some of them have called overzealous efforts by the Office of Congressional Ethics. "That's why the independent Office of Congressional Ethics has been so important". We've not always agreed with Foxx, but we do in this matter.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos.

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