Congressman Goodlatte Decides To Refill The Swamp By Gutting Congressional Ethics Office… But Drops It After Bad Publicity

from the no-lobbyists-left-behind dept

Update: So… literally a minute before this post was about to go live came the news that House Republicans have magically dropped this plan, after it received a ton of negative press overnight, and had tons of inbound phone calls and, yes, even our President Elect sort of (but not really) came out against the plan. While the Bloomberg article above credits Trump for this, if you read what he actually said, he does call the Office of Congressional Ethics “unfair,” he just says this isn’t a priority now (perhaps meaning the following plan will come back in the future). Since this is still a possibility, here’s the original post.

Well, we’re into a new year, and the promised “swamp draining” in Washington DC continues to move in the other direction. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (whose name you may remember from the fact that he’s leading the charge on copyright reform (but who has a history of being terrible on copyright), or perhaps from the fact that he’s also bad on surveillance) has made the surprise move of completely gutting the Office of Congressional Ethics, and basically taking away its independence from Congress.

The OCE was created in 2008 in response to the Jack Abramoff scandal, and some other Congressional corruption scandals, that resulted in three members of Congress going to jail. The OCE was an independent office that was set up to investigate Congressional ethics and corruption violations. Not surprisingly, not everyone in Congress was thrilled about having an independent office investigating them, so Goodlatte seems to have made sure that won’t be a problem — and he did so without any warning, without any debate and even against the wishes of the leadership of his own party:

The move to effectively kill the Office of Congressional Ethics was not made public until late Monday, when Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that the House Republican Conference had approved the change. There was no advance notice or debate on the measure.

The surprising vote came on the eve of the start of a new session of Congress, where emboldened Republicans are ready to push an ambitious agenda on everything from health care to infrastructure, issues that will be the subject of intense lobbying from corporate interests. The House Republicans? move would take away both power and independence from an investigative body, and give lawmakers more control over internal inquiries.

It also came on the eve of a historic shift in power in Washington, where Republicans control both houses of Congress and where a wealthy businessman with myriad potential conflicts of interest is preparing to move into the White House. Continue reading the main story

Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader, spoke out during the meeting to oppose the measure, aides said on Monday night.

Goodlatte, has put out a somewhat ridiculous statement defending the move, claiming (incorrectly) that this strengthens OCE’s mission. Of course, then he also notes that it “improves upon the due process rights” of members of Congress. But experts note that all it’s really doing is letting Congress take control over the previously independent organization, and giving Congress the power to kill investigations. I guess that’s one way to “improve due process rights.” But, really, was there really a problem with the “due process rights” of members of Congress being investigated for corruption and ethics violations?

In fact, Buzzfeed does a nice job showing all of the ways in which this does the exact opposite of what Goodlatte claims concerning “strengthening” OCE’s mission:

If you can’t read that, here’s what it says:

  1. The OCE should no longer be independent. Insteads, it will be under the House’s Committee on Ethics, which is run by members of Congress.
  2. The office will no longer be able to accept anonymous tips from whistleblowers.
  3. The ethics office must stop any investigation if the House ethics committee tells them to.
  4. The ethics office cannot investigate any tips of misconduct that took place before Jan. 3, 2011
  5. The office can no longer talk about its findings — even hire a spokesperson.
  6. OCE cannot investigate any criminal cases or turn allegations of corruption over to law enforcement.

That, uh, does not sound at all like “strengthening” OCE’s mission. It sounds like the exact opposite. In other news, Rep. Goodlatte’s statement over this is a blatant lie.

Politico has some details of how some members who had been investigated by the OCE supported gutting it, claiming that they felt unfairly targeted — even though all of the examples given resulted in OCE deciding there were no ethics violations. It’s entirely possible that OCE may have been annoying for Congress to deal with, but no one seems to have presented any evidence that it ever came to conclusions that were incorrect or unfair — just that their investigations were annoying. And… so what? Congress should be under a microscope when it comes to ethics and corruption. The whole idea that Congress itself can just unilaterally undermine its own oversight is pretty ridiculous — especially at a time when so few trust Congress, and so many believe it to be so corrupt.

Meanwhile, in totally unrelated news, Rep. Goodlatte famously dined with the MPAA right after a hearing on copyright reform, and MPAA boss Chris Dodd has told every MPAA studio that they need to donate at least $40k each to Rep. Goodlatte. Again, I’m sure that’s a total coincidence and completely unrelated to the story above.

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Comments on “Congressman Goodlatte Decides To Refill The Swamp By Gutting Congressional Ethics Office… But Drops It After Bad Publicity”

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sevin says:

What did you Expect?

Congressional Ethics is an oxymoron

No amount of ethics-committees (like OCE) can force Congress to be ethical. The basic concept is absurd.

The OCE was primarily a public relations ploy to band-aid the (then) latest Congressional scandal in 2008. It fulfilled that temporary need and now has predictably become an annoyance to many in Congress.

The OCE had no real power — and was totally “dependent” upon the basic House of Representatives for its very existence and activities. It was NOT independent — most of its Board of Directors were in fact Congressmen.

Congress should and could police itself without extraneous bureaucratic committees — but of course Congress is dysfunctional and does not even perform any of its major Constitutional duties.

What a mess for American citizens. Maybe they should elect a totally different class of people?

Anonymous Coward says:

Only a temporary hold

Their only reluctance is that it was caught before they could vote on it. They will try again, but hide it in some other completely unrelated bill that will not get as much attention. Likely start by completely defunding all ethics committees so they don’t have any money to do their work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Is #6 legal?

Since a vast majority of congressional districts are gerrymandered to the point where some run virtually unopposed and those who do have competition are frequently decided during party locked primaries — not much we can do.
Its a far longer process, but working somehow to get a supreme court decision making all gerrymandering illegal is the first step to correct that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Is #6 legal?

No, no and thrice no. Sometimes all you have to vote for is a douche or a turd sandwich. Don’t go blaming ordinary folk for this.

Yes Trump tells us you can put yourself in the race, but look at his game plan: a) make sure you have rich parents b) do stuff c) ” d) profit e) get people to vote for you

Telling “stupid citizens” to wake up is no solution.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Strengthening the mission --The Mgt.

Before: OCE had many branches to its mission. It couldn’t focus on one thing, it had to spread its attention across many activities. I.e., its mission was weak and unfocused.

Now: OCE has one mission: counting staples. Its focus is sharpened and its attention is no longer divided: stronger mission!

It’s perfectly simple: you just need to understand congressional/management speak. Especially the means by which any BS can be made to sound like it’s new and improved garden soil.

John Cressman (profile) says:

More research

The Office of Congressional Ethics was created by Nancy Pelosi’s House to go after political opponents. It has no oversight, no rules to follow and can basically go after anyone with nothing more than an anonymous complaint.

It is the embodiment of “the swamp”.

There are plenty of other law enforcement agencies that can do the same and are required to have a standard to actually initiate an investigation.

If some agency that reported to no one suddenly came after YOU because some anonymous tip and was not required to tell you the charge, the accuser or anything – YOU would be up in arms.

Don’t be a hypocrite.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: More research

So, you get rid of the oversight – then what?
… Party time?

Congress critterz are already exempted from all sorts of laws the rest of us are bludgeoned with and now you suggest that everyone look the other way because there might be some sort of political motivation – Oh My! ….. who da thunk it possible? No way! I’m shocked and dismayed!

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