Legal Center Calls for Strengthening of Member Conflict of Interest & Recusal Rules
Today, the Campaign Legal Center again urged the House Ethics Committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to establish a Task Force to review and recommend changes to clarify House rules concerning recusal and conflicts of interest by Members. In a letter to Ethics Committee Chair Charles Dent (R-PA) and Ranking Member Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and OCE Co-Chairs David Skaggs and Judy Biggert, CLC offered new accounts that raise questions of potential Member conflicts on a large scale in the fields of biomedicine and healthcare.
“The current rules are weak and lack transparency which presents problems with actual conflicts of interest as well as with the public’s faith in its elected representatives in Washington,” said Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center Policy Director. “Neither Members nor the general public are well served by the current weak rules concerning recusal and conflicts of interest. Under the current system, Members are dogged by the shadow of potential conflicts in their actions and the general public too often assumes the worst about Congress because there is no transparency in the current system.”
The letter urges the Ethics Committee and OCE to establish a joint Task Force to review the current practices and guidance, and then publicly recommend changes in House rules and procedures to clarify when Members should recuse themselves from not only voting but also other legislative activities in order to protect against conflicts of interest. The process, the letter emphasized, should also include a public notification as part of the process to ensure public confidence that Members are not using their official position to further personal interests.
Currently House rules require that every Member “shall vote on each question put, unless he has a direct personal or pecuniary interest in the event of such question.” It appears that most most Members go no further in order to determine whether to recuse themselves from voting or taking action on a matter directly affecting their financial interests. However, the House Ethics Manual (Manual) differentiates between voting and other legislative “advocacy” actions such as “sponsoring legislation, advocating or participating in an action by a House committee, or contacting an executive branch agency.” The Manual also states that prior to undertaking such non-vote advocacy implicating financial interests, a Member should clear it with the Ethics Committee. Under current guidelines, there is no way for the public to determine whether Members seek clearance from the Ethics Committee.
To read the letter, click here.