House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Speaker Pelosi,
As organizations dedicated to promoting government ethics, accountability and transparency, we very much appreciate the outstanding leadership you provided in establishing the Office of Congressional Ethics in 2008 ("OCE").
Our organizations include the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, CREW, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG.
The OCE represents an unprecedented ethics breakthrough in that, for the first time,
non-members of Congress are playing a key role in the House ethics enforcement process. The OCE is the most important step taken to strengthen the House ethics enforcement process since the House Ethics Committee was created in 1966.
The OCE was established to serve as an action-forcing mechanism to ensure that the House Ethics Committee considered and addressed serious ethics matters and that the public received appropriate information about how these matters are resolved by the Ethics Committee.
The OCE has done in this Congress precisely what it was created to do. As an action forcing mechanism, it has provided for House Ethics Committee consideration of significant potential ethics violations. The OCE also has injected essential transparency and accountability into the House ethics enforcement process.
In response to these efforts, the Office has come under attack from House members of both parties and from the Ethics Committee itself. We believe these attacks are unjustified and, in particular, we have seen no evidence to support the claim made by some that race has been a factor in actions taken by the OCE or the House Ethics Committee.
We are well aware that efforts are likely to take place at the outset of the next Congress to eliminate or cripple the OCE. This would be a fundamental mistake on the part of House members and would signal to the American people that House members are not serious about ethics and have little interest in enforcing the ethics rules that govern their actions. 2
Our organizations urge you to make a public commitment to support the continued existence of the OCE in the next Congress. We also urge you to make a public commitment to oppose any changes in the OCE which would prevent the Office from effectively carrying out its mission and basic responsibilities.
We recognize that any new entity like the OCE requires review at the end of its initial stage of operations. However, if and when any changes are proposed or considered it is imperative that they must not undermine or hamper the OCE's ability to ensure that significant potential ethics violations are investigated by the House Ethics Committee. Similarly it is imperative that they must not weaken OCE's essential role in providing the American people with transparency and accountability in the House ethics enforcement process. We urge you to publicly commit to oppose any such changes.
As you know, the OCE was created following the failure of the House Ethics Committee, to conduct any investigations or take any actions regarding the worst congressional ethics and lobbying scandals in decades, the Jack Abramoff scandals which occurred in the 109th Congress.
This failure demonstrated a fundamental problem with the House ethics enforcement process, namely that the House Ethics Committee had become a burial grounds for potential ethics violations which often simply disappeared in the Committee.
The OCE was created to address this problem and has worked well to protect the interests of the American people and the House as an institution. It would be a grave mistake and a disservice to the American people to abandon or cripple the OCE and return to the dysfunctional House ethics enforcement process that existed before its creation. As a New York Times editorial stated (August 5, 2010):
Grumblers on both sides want to gut the ethics office. That is because it has been fulfilling its mission to put life into the lawmakers' own stultified ethics process, to penetrate the murk of misbehavior and keep the public better informed.
In summary, our organizations call on you to make a public commitment to the American people to support the continuation of the OCE and to oppose any efforts to prevent the OCE from effectively carrying out its mission and basic responsibilities. The OCE must continue to ensure that significant potential ethic violations are investigated by the House Ethics Committee and that effective accountability and transparency exists in the ethics enforcement process
We would appreciate receiving a response to the matters we have raised in our letter.
Campaign Legal Center League of Women Voters
Common Cause Public Citizen
CREW U.S. PIRG