January 4, 2017
We learned through a protracted and complicated process about the congressional ethics processes. It was a case we initiated and pursued with some limited degree of success against a sitting member of Congress many years ago.
What we learned is that there are two committees in Washington that have some jurisdiction over whether members of Congress violate the ethics rules that apply to them — the Office of Congressional Ethics and the House Ethics Committee. They have remarkable similar names, so much so that the public would be rightfully confused as to their identities and functions.
The Office of Congressional Ethics is a citizens oversight committee appointed by House leadership that more or less, on private complaints, makes “probable cause” findings for further consideration by the House Ethics Committee. The Congressional Ethics Committee consists of members of Congress. The Office of Congressional Ethics has a rich tradition of investigating and impartially referring meritorious matters to the House Ethics Committee for official action. But the House Ethics Committee is notorious for being the place where all complaints against members of Congress go to die. Some members of Congress thinks the Office of Congressional Ethics is too zealous in its pursuit of members of Congress and, specifically, object to the consideration of anonymous complaints and the pursuit of frivolous matters, requiring members of Congress to expend enormous sums defending themselves.
Yesterday, the U.S House GOP caucus preliminarily voted to significantly restrain the Office of Congressional Ethics — to clip its wings. Today, the same caucus abandoned that decision and left things as they are for now, and for a bipartisan decision on the fate of the Office to be made by the House Ethics Committee.
You may read the story of all of this by Dierdre Shesgreen of Gannett News and the Cincinnati Enquirer here.