This morning, many people woke up concerned as they heard challenging news. In a closed door meeting last night, the House Republican Conference voted to greatly diminish the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Created in 2008, the Office of Congressional Ethics is an independent body that investigates ethics within the House of Representatives. After last night’s vote, ethics complaints and investigations will fall exclusively under the authority of the House Ethics Committee. In other words, congressional leaders in the House will be responsible for investigating themselves.
Democrats, other Republicans, and ethics watchdog organizations are speaking out today in concern. And this should concern us. This move shifts deterrents in harmful ways.
Until this shift, the Office of Congressional Ethics has worked in this way: A six-member outside board has overseen the office with a staff of investigators. When they receive a complaint, including an anonymous complaint, these investigators conduct confidential interviews and collect documents. They pass these onto the OCE board as evidence, and if the board concludes that there may be a potential violation of federal rules or laws, they refer the matter to the House Ethics Committee, which conducts its own review.
The House Ethics Committee may move forward with the concern or dismiss it, but either way, the Office of Congressional Ethics releases its report. This brings the complaint and the process out into the open after it has been investigated by an independent body.
It serves as a deterrent against poor ethics.
Without this in place, the public cannot have access to such information. The public may never learn about specific complaints which come to the House Ethics Committee. The public may never know if the House Ethics Committee chose to investigate or why that decision was made. Most importantly, it sets up a conflict of interest as congressional leaders are tasked with investigating themselves — and most of it, out of view.
When the House Republican Conference voted upon this shift last night, they said the decision was made in order to strengthen due process for representatives who are accused and to avoid anonymous complaints.
But without the ability to make anonymous complaints, whistleblowers are at risk.
The decision to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics removes the deterrent of a public report. Instead, it places a deterrent upon whistleblowers who cannot risk naming themselves.
When it comes to public morality and leadership, ethics matter. So do the right deterrents. These shifts in deterrents diminish the truth.
To learn more, see also. . .
With No Warning, House Republicans Vote to Gut Independent Ethics Office
House Repubicans vote to eviscerate the Office of Congressional Ethics
House Republicans move to slash powers of ethics watchdog
House GOP Votes To Strip Independence from Congressional Office