House Tries To Gut Oversight

Jan. 3, 2017 Scarborough blasts GOP decision to gut ethics office

In the new Congress, House Republicans already made their moves against independent watchdogs. This greatly impacts and results in dismantling major reforms adapted after Jack Abramoff scandal. Such move was led by lawmakers who were investigated in the past few years.

Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy already voiced out their concerns, but House Republicans pushed through in adopting the proposal made by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte. The proposal places the Office of Congressional Ethics under jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee.

The office has complete authority to investigate and recommend necessary actions to House Ethics Committee as deemed necessary.

However, at present, the lawmakers will serve as eyes watching over the office. The office will also have limited scope in their work as the proposal prohibits them from considering anonymous tips against lawmakers. In return, the office will be incapacitated in disclosing certain results of their investigations.

As Trump occupies the presidential position, oversight is completely lenient regarding lawmakers’ potential conflict of interest, expenditure of campaign funds, and other related ethical matters.

Though Republicans that they agree with actions on “draining the swamp,” the only that they focused on so far is banishing the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. As mentioned by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, it turns are that ethics are the first victims of the new Republican Congress.

The actions against OCE was led by some house members who thought that they have been falsely accused of unethical behavior. These members pushed forward the proposal and eventually earned favorable vote of 119 to 74.

Rep. Blake Farenthold was previously accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer. Though OCE recommended probing of the issue, Farenthold obviously kept some grudge.

On the other hand, Rep. Peter Roskam was under investigation by OCE because of supposedly accepting impermissible gift during he and wife’s travel to Taiwan in October 2011. Though the trip was approved, the OCE believed that the Taiwanese government sponsored the trip. Moreover, Roskan’s daughter was reported to be in Taiwan during the trip, and OCE claimed that Roskam tried to include a visit to her daughter as part of their trip, which cost $24,000. Roskam denied the accusation, and the case was dropped not long after.

Office of Congressional Ethics was established in March 2008 by Democrats after the Abramoff scandal. The scandal involved a well-connected GOP lobbyist who pleaded on contriving plans to bribe public officials. Abramoff and other people who participated utilized campaign funds and called out favor to influence some house members, including former Rep. Bob Ney, who was sentenced to 30 months of prison.

OCE was supposed to be an outside agency that can hold a more robust oversight of members. However, in Goodlatte proposal, OCE will be designated as “Office of Congressional Complaint Review.” The office will now then be supervised by Committee on Ethics. 

Essentially, the provision aims to shut down accusations against lawmakers. Goodlatte defends his proposal, claiming that it is focused on protecting rights of individuals who are under investigation. He also claims that his provision does not serve as hindrance to the great work done by the OCE.

However, watchdog groups are claiming otherwise. According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, such proposal destabilizes independence of OCE and poses danger to Congress members.

Moreover, if authority of OCE is weakened, the House will revert to the time when ethic violations are prevalent.

House Tries To Gut Oversight