The Office of Congressional Ethics survives to judge another Congress
posted at 10:41 am on January 17, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham
We could have a debate about which matters least, I suppose— the signature threshold on the “We the People” petitions or the survival of the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Oh, I kid. The Office of Congressional Ethics, despite its creation at the hands of Rep. Nancy Pelosi and the oxymoronic ring to its name, is not without merit. It’s independent of the actual Congress, it ticks off entrenched Republicans and Democrats alike, and has been unfairly accused of racism for holding members accountable regardless of skin color— all signals it can and has unearthed real issues.
In December, the board was in danger of dissolution, if you’ll allow me to quote myself:
Formed in 2008 as part of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s laughable promise to “drain the swamp” when she gained the gavel in 2006, the Office of Congressional Ethics is an independent group that investigates ethics complaints about Congress. Here’s the catch: the Congress it investigates must actually go about the business of nominating its appointees, reauthorizing and funding it or it will cease to exist. As one might expect, princesses are not overly fond of paying others to place peas under their mattresses, endangering their delicate hindquarters.
So, the Office of Congressional Ethics is in danger, with its creator Pelosi and Rep. John Boehner caught up in fiscal cliff talks and ranging between coy and obstinate on whether they’ll appoint new members of the board or reauthorize it in a timely manner.
Boehner was slightly more forthcoming with promises to appoint than Pelosi, whose members were more vocally mad about the OCE than Boehner’s. But the two came to an agreement, reappointing all of the board, with the exception of the change of one alternate:
House leaders on Wednesday made eight appointments to the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics, enabling the independent fact-finding agency to continue its work in the 113th Congress.
Former congressman and CIA director Porter J. Goss, R-Fla., and former Rep. David Skaggs, D-Colo., will return as co-chairmen. Returning board members and alternates are: former Reps. Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, D-Calif., Karan English, D-Ariz., and Bill Frenzel, R-Minn.; former House Chief Administration Officer Jay Eagen and former Federal Election Commission Chief of Staff Allison Hayward. Former Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Md., is the lone new member of the OCE board, replacing former Rep. Abner Mikva, D-Ill., who retired.
Huh, a Democrat from Illinois was on an ethics board. Anyway, after prodding from watchdog groups, the office lives on. While it does not have the power to mete out punishment—indeed, of 37 cases it’s investigated only two members have suffered consequences at the hands of the Congress—it does seem to make scandals harder to ignore.
Despite these limitations, the office has conducted more investigations in three years than the full committee has in more than a decade, sending 29 public referrals to the Ethics Committee for future action.
Here’s to the peas it will place under the mattresses of our duly elected officials.