MARCH 12, 2008
Finally recognizing that the public doesn’t trust them amid a string of congressional scandals and misconduct, members of the House of Representatives voted to create an independent panel to investigate ethics complaints.
The six-member, bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics will consist of non lawmakers with exceptional public standing, possibly retired judges or former members of Congress or staffers. They will be jointly appointed by the Speaker of the House and the House Minority Leader and lobbyists will be banned from serving.
It will mark the first time that the House delegates authority for regulating its behavior to outsiders. The measure was passed in response to criticism that the existing House Ethics Committee ignores complaints or fails to investigate them in a timely manner. In fact, the 10-member committee—five Democrats and five Republicans—has been ridiculed for years for failing to probe a series of scandals, some involving imprisoned lawmakers.
Recent examples of jailed lawmakers who slipped by the negligent ethics committee include California Republican Randy Cunningham and Ohio Republican Bob Ney, both serving time for corruption. Others have been federally indicted, like Louisiana Democrat William Jefferson for accepting bribes and Arizona Republican Rick Renzi for conspiracy and money laundering.
The House began its cleanup act last year by passing legislation aimed at curbing the huge influence that lobbyists have on legislators. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act requires, for the first time, full disclosure of campaign contributions that lobbyists collect from clients, friends and other special interests trying to influence lawmakers.
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