Rep. Watt’s Attempt to Gut Office of Congressional Ethics Fails: Statement of Meredith McGehee, Policy Director
It is a sad commentary that almost one third of the House followed the lead of Rep. Mel Watt (D-MC) and voted to eviscerate the budget of the only functioning element of the House ethics process. The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) should be strengthened, not weakened and no further proof of that is needed than the Ethics Committee’s completely inept handling of the investigation of Representative Maxine Waters.
The 102 members who supported the amendment offered by Rep. Watt to gut the funding of the OCE have sent a signal to the American people that they see themselves as insulated against any credible questioning of their ethical behavior.
Currently, the House Ethics Committee itself, made up of an equal number of Republican and Democratic members, is under investigation for a series of leaks, allegations of unprofessional conduct, and partisan bickering.
In contrast, the OCE has conducted itself in a professional manner, with almost every public action it has taken, including recommendations for further ethics investigations of both Republicans and Democrats, receiving unanimous bipartisan support from the OCE board, which also has an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.
It is not surprising that those Members who have been the subject of an investigation are unhappy. But too many Members seem to have no appreciation of how the OCE helps them. Because the OCE’s actions to date are viewed as publicly credible, fair and professional, investigations conducted by the Office that result in a clean “bill of health” are not perceived as the rigged result from the ‘old boys club’. Too many Members – at least the102 Members that voted for the Watt amendment – lack the perspective to understand how the OCE is a help and not a threat – unless of course, they have committed a breach of the ethics rules.
With the meltdown at the Ethics Committee, now is time to look at strengthening the OCE, not weakening it. Once outside counsel Billy Martin finishes his investigation of Rep. Waters and of the Ethics Committee, Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi should seriously consider proposals to get the Ethics Committee out of the investigative function altogether and to provide the OCE with subpoena power.