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
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.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?
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.
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:
- 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.
- The office will no longer be able to accept anonymous tips from whistleblowers.
- The ethics office must stop any investigation if the House ethics committee tells them to.
- The ethics office cannot investigate any tips of misconduct that took place before Jan. 3, 2011
- The office can no longer talk about its findings -- even hire a spokesperson.
- OCE cannot investigate any criminal cases or turn allegations of corruption over to law enforcement.
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.