House Ethics Committee: Don’t worry about appearances

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  • Dale Eisman

Common Cause today condemned a House Ethics Committee finding that “no relevant House rule or other standard of conduct prohibits the creation of an appearance of a conflict of interest when selecting witnesses for a committee hearing.”

The House Ethics Committee on Thursday asserted that no House rule prohibits the creation of an appearance of a conflict of interest in announcing its decision not to investigate Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) for inviting his friend and neighbor, Brooks Hurst, to testify before a Congressional hearing on renewable fuels without mentioning that Graves’ wife and Hurst were investors together in renewable fuels plants in Missouri at the time.

“The Ethics Committee has lowered the standard for Congressional behavior to a new low,” said Common Cause President, Bob Edgar. “They have now said Members of Congress are free to create the appearance of a conflict of interest in their congressional work.”

The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent body made primarily of former members of congress, unanimously voted that the Ethics Committee should investigate Rep. Graves for potentially creating an appearance of a conflict of interest in selecting Hurst as a witness. The Ethics Committee refused to do so.

Still, Common Cause was pleased to see in the accidental public release of information regarding activities of the House Ethics Committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) that both panels appear to be seriously pursuing their ethics responsibilities. The OCE appears to be prodding the Ethics Committee to new heights of productivity.

Edgar called on the Speaker of the House and the Minority Leader to clarify the rules of the House and the standard of conduct expected from lawmakers.

“If the Congressional leadership does not want the American people to think anything goes in Washington, they have to step in right now to denounce what the Ethics Committee has said and clarify what the ethical standards are for lawmakers,” Edgar said.