Congress must reconvene and create outside ethics enforcement

Common Cause today calls on the House of Representatives to return to Washington DC before Election Day on Nov. 7 to establish an outside ethics commission to provide ethics oversight and enforcement of a body that has proven now beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is incapable of policing itself.

“This is the last straw,” said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree of the page scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL). “In this Congress we’ve seen bribery, convictions and former Members sit in jail. But the apparent cover up by House leaders of a Member of Congress who was sexually exploiting children is proof that the House is unable and incapable of policing itself, and that the system of peer review must be changed.”

The House should consider HR 4920, a bill sponsored by Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE), which would create an independent ethics commission that would report alleged violations by members of Congress to the House Ethics Committee or appropriate law enforcement agencies. The legislation includes a requirement of mandatory annual ethics training for members and House employees and also includes lobby and ethics reforms.

The House must reconvene before Election Day because the public has a right to know where every House Member who is up for re-election stands on their willingness to be held accountable.

“If there was ever a moment of realization as to how unwilling and incapable Congress is of policing itself, it is now,” Pingree said. “Americans are understandably outraged. The House must act immediately in order to restore public confidence.”

Such a move would not be unprecedented. As recently as last year, Congress returned to Washington during its Easter Recess to consider the fate of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who was in a vegetative state.

Common Cause today also calls on House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-NY) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) to make public all information and all documents in their possession regarding the handling of sexually explicit e-mails by former Rep. Mark Foley to former and current House pages.