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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  • icon
    timmaguire42 (profile), 3 Jan 2017 @ 10:10am

    They were never going to reform voluntarily. Say what you want about Trump, but he's not president yet, he'll never be able to dictate to congress, and he came down on the right side of the issue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2017 @ 10:35am

      Re:

      He complained about the timing, not the function.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 4 Jan 2017 @ 4:33pm

      Re:

      he came down on the right side of the issue.

      No he didn't. He said he supported it (because the independent ethics committee is "unfair", one of his favorite words), just that Congress has more important things to do, like cutting taxes on the rich and gutting healthcare.

      I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2017 @ 10:10am

    You see, oversight is unnecessary bloating of government. How else are we going to have the small government everyone wants without trimming off some of the fat here and there?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard Forno (profile), 3 Jan 2017 @ 10:11am

    When even convicted Jack Abramoff comes out with a statement saying gutting the OCE was a bad idea .... that says something.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    sevin, 3 Jan 2017 @ 10:21am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2017 @ 10:37am

      Re: What did you Expect?

      Might not be able to force them into doing what everyone agrees is in the best interest of the country and its occupants ....

      But you can hold their feet to the fire and possibly prosecute some of the gopher pawn types.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 3 Jan 2017 @ 10:27am

    It's happening here too. The conflicts of interest and the corruption are harder and harder to hide so they are trying to gut the mechanisms that allow such (small) transparency. Actually, and other readers from other countries may help here, it's happening in much more places than we can see.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2017 @ 10:27am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2017 @ 11:42am

      Re: Only a temporary hold

      "ethics committees" is on its own disturbing since more than one with the possibility of reaching different conclusions would literally define hypocricy!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2017 @ 10:32am

    Is #6 legal?

    Can you tell someone that they can't report a crime to law enforcement?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2017 @ 10:38am

      Re: Is #6 legal?

      No

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mat (profile), 3 Jan 2017 @ 11:07am

      Re: Is #6 legal?

      Since when did Congress care if its laws were legal -or- morally sound?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2017 @ 11:51am

        Re: Re: Is #6 legal?

        since when did citizens do anything to congress for not caring about the laws.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2017 @ 12:12pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2017 @ 2:36pm

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

            waking up stupid citizens voting in incumbents is the first step.

            the problem starts with and ends with the voters. The change must happen with the voters, all other solutions require blood.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2017 @ 2:12am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2017 @ 6:43am

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

                Only the self loathing believe those who claim voters are to blame for the government corruption, greed, insanity and general criminal behavior.

                Those who do not have self esteem issues laugh at the silly antics of the projection artists.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2017 @ 10:46am

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

                  Only cowards run and hide from the their duty, but they sure like to enjoy the fruits of others labor.

                  The citizens are the nation.

                  Every Nation gets the Government it deserves!

                  Run and hide all you like...

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Thad, 4 Jan 2017 @ 4:36pm

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

                    What the hell are you even talking about? Are you a person or a meme generator? Did you mean to post that to Techdirt, or did you accidentally paste a bunch of messages you meant to put on images of Keanu Reeves eating a sandwich or something?

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 3 Jan 2017 @ 10:52am

    I am thinking that some people need to be investigated into why they don't want people investigating them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 3 Jan 2017 @ 12:51pm

    Time to investigate

    I wonder what criminal activity Goodlatte was involved in prior to 2011?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    J.R., 3 Jan 2017 @ 3:11pm

    Congressional Ethics

    Congress: "We don't need no stinkin' ethics!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AnonCow, 3 Jan 2017 @ 7:11pm

    Morally bankrupt AND a coward!

    Excellent combination.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Groaker (profile), 3 Jan 2017 @ 8:23pm

    The reputed Congressional Ethics Office was a farce, wrapped in a joke, girdled by K-Y jelly. It never even had subpoena power. In fact it had no power whatsoever.

    Pelosi made sure of that. Just one example amongst the many is Charles Rangel.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 3 Jan 2017 @ 10:41pm

      Re:

      And yet, it was still enough of an irritation that Congress wanted it gutted even past that.

      How many metaphorical skeletons in closets do they have to have that even a farce is seen as a threat?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 3 Jan 2017 @ 11:23pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Cressman, 4 Jan 2017 @ 5:04am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2017 @ 6:48am

      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!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2017 @ 10:17am

      Re: More research

      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.

      Yet Gitmo still exists.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 4 Jan 2017 @ 4:46pm

      Re: More research

      I kinda love that we've got a post blaming Pelosi for using the OCE as her own police force against political opponents two down from a post blaming Pelosi for gutting the OCE and rendering it an ineffectual joke.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JustMe (profile), 4 Jan 2017 @ 8:41am

    " literally "

    Ugh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 4 Jan 2017 @ 4:43pm

      Re: " literally "

      ...are you talking about the word "literally" used at the top of the post, or by an anon in the comments section?

      Because it's entirely plausible that Masnick is using the word correctly in linking to an article that was updated 13 minutes before this hastily-updated post was published.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2017 @ 7:24pm

    New political technique

    re :Thad per"More Research"

    And in what millenia did politicians invent setting up strawmen, and use them as targets?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JustMe (profile), 5 Jan 2017 @ 4:00am

    Re: Thad

    OK, fair point. The word may have slipped in during the update.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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