House votes in support of ethics enforcement

The House of Representatives tonight passed a monumentally important resolution to create an independent, bipartisan panel of non-lawmakers to help review and investigate possible ethics violations by House members.

“The House finally firmly responded to the message the American public sent in the last election,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “This kind of independent body has a long track record of success at the state level. If House members make a good faith effort to let it work, the Office of Congressional Ethics will be a tremendous improvement to the current system.”

By a vote of 229-182, the House created the six-member Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which will have the power to initiate and conduct ethics investigations and issue reports and recommendations to the House Ethics Committee. The resolution does not affect the Senate, which has done nothing to improve the enforcement of ethics rules.

For years, Common Cause has advocated for an independent body in Congress to help enforce ethics rules modeled on the independent commissions that exist in many state legislatures. Common Cause has worked closely with the leadership of both parties to shape the changes in the ethics rules and enforcement procedures made in response to the scandals of lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA).

“You have to give credit to Speaker Pelosi for making this happen,” said Edgar. “The Republican conference and some members of the Democratic caucus fought this thing from the very beginning, but Speaker Pelosi kept her word and saw it through to the end.”

The leadership of each party will jointly appoint the six members of the OCE. The OCE will be the most successful if the appointees are people of high character, have a background in jurisprudence and are not partisan. “Now we just have to make sure the OCE doesn’t get torpedoed by the same folks who fought against it,” said Edgar. “This will work like it is supposed to if the OCE can independently and objectively enforce the rules of conduct in the House – something that has been missing for more than a decade.”