Judicial Watch Statement in Support of Continuing the House Office of Congressional Ethics
SEPTEMBER 11, 2014
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton issued a statement today calling upon the House of Representatives Republican and Democratic leadership to extend the life of the House Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which is charged with probing congressional misconduct. Earlier in the week, Judicial Watch joined with government watchdog groups from across the ideological spectrum in co-signing a letter to House leaders of both parties calling for the extension and citing the House ethics office for its “outstanding record of bipartisan ethics enforcement.”
Dear Speaker Boehner, Leader Pelosi, Majority Leader McCarthy and Minority Whip Hoyer:
We are writing to urge you to publicly and expeditiously announce your intent to continue the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) for the 114th Congress. The OCE has amassed an outstanding record of bipartisan ethics enforcement and has significantly improved the House ethics process. While we are aware that you will no doubt hear from some skeptics in both of your caucuses who would prefer to do away with the OCE, we urge you to reject this short-sighted viewpoint which is exactly the “above-the-law” attitude that helps fuel public distrust of a Congress whose approval levels have hit record lows. We urge the bipartisan leadership of the House to release a joint statement well in advance of the convening of the next Congress in which you confirm your joint intent to reconstitute the Office and rename its Board next year.
The OCE has played an important role in helping protect the integrity of the House and its members. Not only has the Office established a record of fair investigations and bipartisan cooperation, it has provided a credible means for unfounded allegations of violations by Members and staff to be investigated and, if warranted, dismissed. The public record shows that 64 percent of complaints that the OCE has received have either been dismissed or closed before conclusion of the process. Further, OCE reports that, of the 49 reviews that have resulted in further referrals to the Committee on Ethics, 46 are a matter of public record and reflect a transparency not before seen in the ethics process. The OCE’s breadth of public investigations includes questions surrounding earmarks, travel allowances, permissible uses of legal expense funds, potential lobbying disclosure act violations, the combined efforts of which has generated significant improvement in legislative transparency.
At a time of historically low Congressional approval ratings, the OCE has continued to receive positive reviews from both the public and the press in publications as diverse as The Washington Times and The New York Times. While the Office would be best served by further strengthening, we believe at this juncture it is most important that the bipartisan leadership of the House demonstrate your continued commitment to the OCE and publicly commit to its continued operation in the next Congress.
Campaign Legal Center
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
League of Women Voters
In his statement today, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said:
Judicial Watch worked with then-Speaker Speaker Pelosi’s Special Task Force on Ethics Enforcement to push for an independent body to help handle ethics investigations of House members. This effort led to the establishment of the Office of Congressional Ethics, which has been since been attacked by both Democrats and Republicans for, frankly, being too effective in trying to enforce ethics in the House. In fact, Judicial Watch helped persuade Republicans not to gut the Office when they took control of the House in 2010.
If there was ever a time in history when Congress needs to be unalterably vigilant about the need to police its members and guard against congressional misconduct, it is most assuredly now. One recent poll showed that the American people think an astounding 75% of politicians are corrupt and that 70% of politicians use their political power to help their friends and hurt their enemies. The Office of Congressional Ethics is a little-known office that keeps Congress a bit more honest and, if appropriately utilized, could increase public confidence in the House of Representatives. Leaders of both parties should commit to keeping this watchdog in place and, surely, to committing that corrupt conduct by Members of Congress is addressed in a manner that increases transparency and accountability.