An Inconvenient Office

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Most politicians like to talk about returning honesty and ethics to Washington. But they’re not too hot on actually being investigated themselves. For decades, the House and Senate ethics committees were the main place where potential violations of Congressional ethics were investigated. More often than not, they were also where such investigations went to die. 

In 2008, two years after they took back Congress, the Democrats passed ethics reforms that established an independent Office of Congressional Ethics. OCE has generally been a tough, independent watchdog, and it infuriated some members of Congress when it referred information about the PMA lobbying scandal to the Justice Department for potential prosecution. (PMA was a lobbying shop that specialized in obtaining earmarks for its clients.) Now, Politico reports, many members are regretting the decision to establish the OCE in the first place:

The Office of Congressional Ethics, a powerful symbol of Democrats’ promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, is in danger of having its power stripped after the midterm elections.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have led the charge, airing complaints about the aggressive, independent panel in a private session with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last month, and they’ve drafted a resolution that, if approved, would severely curtail the panel’s power.

But there’s hot competition between the CBC and the official House ethics committee over who has less regard for the Office of Congressional Ethics, also known as the OCE. And the rest of the House doesn’t appear to be far behind in its disdain. Privately, Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and even some congressional leaders, acknowledge that there’s a strong sentiment to change rules that empower the office to publicize investigations and wreak havoc on lawmakers’ political lives.

This is reprehensible stuff. The lawmakers in question are considering weakening the OCE in 2011, after the midterms, presumably because they think it will make them more likely to get away with it. Politico catches a lot of flak for its obsession with the day-to-day minutiae of politics, but this is exactly the sort of thing that should get more attention. If either party even tries doing this after the election, they should get hammered for it.


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