Congressman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA-6) announced that the House Republican Conference approved late yesterday, and will vote on tomorrow rules eliminate the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. This was done without prior public notice or debate since this was a caucus vote regarding what will be in the House-wide rules vote today.The OCE was created in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal and the Tom DeLay scandal.
The OCE, while not having subpoena power, does have its own staff and investigators., and is overseen by an independent eight person board of people that are not employed by the federal government, and are not members of congress. At the conclusion of an investigation, the board votes on whether or not to refer the matter to the House Ethics Committee. This office was behind the bribery convictions and jail sentences for congressmen Duke Cunningham, William J. Jefferson, and Bob Ney. It is controversial within Congress due to it being seen as aggressive.
Under what is being called the Goodlatte plan, the OCE would be be replaced with a new Office of Congressional Complaint Review, which would report to the House Ethics Committee. Since the OCCR would report directly to the House Ethics Committee, the committee would be able suppress investigations. Under the proposed rules, the OCCR would be forbidden from making any public statement.
The lack of independence and the inability of the OCCR are the main the problems with the proposal. The House Ethics Committee simply does nothing with investigations, and when the congressperson eventually retires, all matters are sealed as the investigation is moot. Under current rules, the OCE is required to publically release investigation reports if the Ethics Committee fails to act within a certain time frame. This behavior creates a kind of check of the House Ethics Committee typical slow walking and stonewalling.
In the few hours that after news of this change broke, there’s been bipartisan complaints about this move, with mocking references to Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” of corruption.