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Deliver on the Promise to Clean Up Washington

Today, Public Citizen submitted testimony [pdf] to the House Special Task Force on Ethics Enforcement. The Task Force is conducting hearings on whether the current congressional ethics enforcement system is broken – YES, IT IS – and, if so, how to fix it.

The Special Task Force, chaired by Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), is the creation of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. If the Task Force delivers on its promise, its recommendations will serve as the basis for separate reform legislation to restructure the congressional ethics enforcement process.

On Day One of the 110th Congress, Speaker Pelosi introduced, and the House nearly unanimously approved, a sweeping set of ethics rules changes that has been widely praised inside and outside the beltway. A legislative package with additional lobbying and ethics reforms will soon follow.

But one essential reform to prove to the public that Congress is serious about cleaning up Washington is still up in the air:  Will Congress establish an effective, independent enforcement agency to monitor compliance to the new laws?

Perhaps the single most important reason that scandal after scandal has rocked Congress is that no single agency is responsible for, nor has the resources to ensure, compliance to the lobbying and ethics rules. Lobbyists file their financial reports with the Clerk of the House, who does not have the authority or the means to guarantee that these reports are filed accurately. Congressional ethics are the responsibility of the House ethics committee, which does not have the staff to monitor and advise Congress on compliance to the rules.

If Congress is serious about lobbying and ethics reforms, these duties must be the responsibility of one agency, professionally staffed and reasonably independent from partisan politics.

Public Citizen in the strongest terms possible urges the Task Force to fulfill its promise and deliver a proposal to fundamentally restructure the ethics process into a monitoring and enforcement system that actually works.