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WASHINGTON – On Monday evening, Representative Goodlatte (VA-06) announced that House Republicans voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, stripping the nonpartisan watchdog of its ability to investigate anonymous reports of wrongdoing by Members of Congress. Under new rules proposed by the GOP caucus, ethics complaints will be turned over to the House Ethics Committee. The Committee answers to party lawmakers and has been accused of overlooking allegations of wrongdoing.
“When Congress is responsible for investigating itself, we get less transparency, less accountability, and a weaker democracy,” said Andre Delattre, Executive Director of U.S. PIRG. “As a country, we’ve learned that the hard way time and again. What’s most striking is that voters across the political spectrum made ethics reform a top priority in this past year’s election. Now, one of the first recorded votes our new lawmakers will take guts our most powerful ethics watchdog in Congress. That’s the worst kind of special-interest politics.”
The Office of Congressional Ethics was created in 2008 following corruption scandals that sent three members of Congress to jail. U.S. PIRG advised congressional leadership on the creation and implementation of the Office of Congressional Ethics.
The rules changes announced Monday night would prevent the Office from investigating anonymous tips and from making public statements independent of the House Ethics Committee. The House Ethics Committee is composed of sitting members of Congress, five Republicans and five Democrats, creating a conflict of interest when these members are asked to pass judgment on their colleagues as part of an investigation.
The measure gutting the Office of Congressional Ethics passed Monday night in a 119-to-74 vote by the House GOP caucus. The vote was not public, so there is no record of how individual members voted, and there was no public notice that changes to the Office of Congressional Ethics were under consideration.
The new rules will come before the full House for a recorded vote on Tuesday as part of a broader rules package.
U.S. PIRG, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.
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