Groups from Across Political Spectrum Urge Congress to Save Office of Congressional Ethics at Capitol Hill Event: Statement of Meredith McGehee, Policy Director

At a Capitol Hill press conference this morning a coalition of 10 groups, including the Campaign Legal Center, Judicial Watch, Taxpayers for Common Sense, National Taxpayers Union and a number of reform groups urged the incoming House leadership of the 112th Congress to continue the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) and to oppose any efforts to weaken or undermine the office.
Campaign Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee’s statement follows below:
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) has provided a brief respite for a beleaguered and dysfunctional ethics process.  It should be continued in the 112th Congress. 

Killing it, however, could be done without leaving any fingerprints.  No up-or-down vote.  No grand speeches. No fanfare.   Unless affirmatively reauthorized in the rules package adopted on the first day of the 112th Congress, the OCE could cease to exist, or it could be weakened so that it remains in name only.  Controversies over other provisions in the new rules for the 112th could steal the headlines, and OCE could be fatally wounded in silence. 

We are here today to make sure that doesn’t happen, to make sure that the public, which has voted angrily for change in Washington for three straight elections, is made aware of any effort to do away with or curb the office and to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Fears of this potential outcome are not theoretical.  Rather, they are based on the House Republican leadership’s virulent opposition to the OCE when it was created, and news reports that the new Speaker may appoint a task force to decide OCE’s future. 

The fact is OCE has significantly improved the House ethics process, injecting greater professionalism and independence into the process.  The ethics committee has repeatedly shown that it is not up to the task of guarding the public trust.  If the OCE is disbanded, the committee will retreat once again behind closed doors without transparency or accountability.

Speaker-designate Boehner should stand up to those in both parties who don’t like the OCE and who want to keep the “Members-only club of Congress” closed tight.  That path would be a disservice to an institution and further damage the low public credibility of the House.

Any effort to eliminate or weaken OCE should be seen as a step backward for ethics enforcement and a slap in the face to many voters who sent a message for greater transparency and more accountability for their elected officials.