Independence marks difference between enforcement proposals

Common Cause commends Reps. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Martin Meehan (D-MA) for introducing legislation that could strengthen ethics enforcement in Congress. Their bill is a step forward because it would create an Office of Public Integrity and allow citizens and outside groups to file ethics complaints against a member of the House.

Common Cause supports independent ethics enforcement in Congress because the ethics committees in both the House and Senate have failed at enforcing Congressional standards of conduct. As we have said before, many of the excesses seen in the Abramoff scandal were against congressional rules. The scandal has not been a lack of rules, but a lack of enforcement.

Common Cause believes the gold standard for reform is the legislation introduced by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). One of the key differences between the Shays-Meehan proposal and the Obama bill is the degree of independence of the Office of Public Integrity, which both bills would create. Under the Shays-Meehan proposal, the ethics committees would still have the authority to block investigations from proceeding, much like they do now. A concern is such a system would allow for an ethics stalemate similar to what Congress struggles with today.

We support the Obama legislation because it would vest the authority to initiate and conduct ethics investigations with an independent body, similar to what occurs in many state legislatures already.