National Journal: Is the Senate Ethics Committee Working?

The secretive panel has taken no public action against a senator in more than two years.
"The Senate ethics process remains a black hole, providing so little public information it is next to impossible to assess whether they are functioning effectively," complains Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center. ...

McGehee and other government watchdogs, such as Public Citizen's Craig Holman—who has been keeping tabs on case inaction and dismissals by the committee—say something needs to be done. They and other members of what is dubbed the Ethics Working Group, led by the Campaign Legal Center, are planning an event in mid-October to announce proposals to improve the congressional ethics process. 

Holman and McGehee say there are improvements that could be made to make the OCE—which itself comes up in January for reauthorization for the next congressional session—to work even better. But they insist that the office has gone a long way to rebuilding public confidence in a House ethics process, whose reputation had fallen. And they say it's time for a similar entity to help deal with what they describe as a silence that has enveloped the Senate ethics process. ...

Holman, McGehee, and Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, had even harsher words in a June 16 letter to Boxer and Isakson, after meeting with the committee's staff director.

"While we appreciate that ongoing investigations are sensitive and necessitate discretion, the Committee has taken these understandable considerations to the extreme," they wrote. "Information goes in and no information is generally and routinely available until (with no public timetable) a final disposition is reached. This gives the impression of a 'whitewash' that protects Senate members at the expense of upholding reasonable ethical standards." ...

"This is fine for them to say," responded McGehee, "but the Senate ethics process remains so opaque we are just supposed to take their word for it? That's not good enough."

To read the full article in the National Journal, click here