Partisan politics trumps accountability Rep. Hefley is ousted as House Ethics chairman

In ousting Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO) today as chairman of the House Ethics Committee, Republican leaders are sending a clear signal that partisan politics trumps accountability and ethical standards in the “people’s House.”

Rep. Hefley led an Ethics Committee that took some difficult steps in investigating and ultimately admonishing House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) for unethical behavior three separate times last year. “Now it appears Congressman Hefley’s leadership is being tossed aside because House leaders are more interested in protecting their own than being accountable to the citizens they serve,” said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree.

We don’t know yet know what kind of Ethics Committee that Hefley’s replacement, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), will run. But given the rules changes passed last month that will make it much harder to initiate investigations, plus the chilling cloud under which Hefley was shown the door, “it is hard to imagine there will be much activity,” Pingree said.

Republicans on the opening day of the 109th Congress scrapped a rule that allowed an ethics complaint to move forward if the Ethics Committee – evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans — deadlocked on its handling. Now, a complaint will be dropped in the event of a deadlock.

“If members along party lines, we will not see any Ethics Committee investigations,” Pingree said.

House leaders may claim that Hefley was replaced as ethics chairman due to term limits, it should be noted that on the first day of the 109th Congress, Republicans waived the term limit rule so Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) could serve another term as chairman of the Rules Committee.

“Leadership clearly could have allowed Hefley to stay on if they wanted,” Pingree said.