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Leaked ethics document shows there's work to be done in the U.S. House

U.S. Capitol DomeThe House Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) – an advisory panel to the regular House ethics committee established this year at the prodding of the reform community – is alive and well despite the barrage of attacks by lawmakers opposed to its very existence.

After years of ethics violations in Congress going uninvestigated by the regular House ethics committee, which is run by lawmakers themselves, OCE was created as a panel of outside experts charged with conducting preliminary investigations of possible ethics violations by lawmakers and their staff and then referring cases with merit to the House ethics committee for a final determination. OCE’s underlying purpose is to prod the ethics committee into fulfilling its mission of enforcing congressional ethics rules.

As the Washington Post reports, an accidental leak of confidential records by a staffer of the House ethics committee shows that the House ethics committee is indeed reluctantly carrying out dozens of ethics inquiries, mostly in response to OCE preliminary investigations.

And the House ethics committee and many lawmakers do not like it. Today, in dismissing one of the OCE-referred complaints, the House ethics committee publicly condemned OCE, alleging that the advisory panel did not provide the lawmaker with exculpatory information during its preliminary investigation. The charge is baseless. The attack on OCE is nothing short of a coordinated effort by some lawmakers to bring an end to OCE – and an end to active investigations of ethics violations. Even some congressional Democrats long for the days of Tom DeLay’s lack of ethical standards.

We cannot let that happen. OCE is a critical component in helping drain the swamp of ethics transgressions on Capitol Hill. As some lawmakers seek to dissolve OCE, it is imperative that we defend it – and defend it we shall.