Jan. 4, 2005
New House Ethics Rule Sure to Deadlock Investigations of Corruption
Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen
Today’s vote to approve new House rules pushed by Republican leaders will result in gridlock on the ethics committee and will give a green light to all forms of corruption among government officials. This, combined with the probable replacement of ethics committee Chairman Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) with Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), who will be a rubber stamp for whatever House Majority Leader Tom DeLay wants, will utterly destroy the lax ethics oversight that now exists.
The new ethics procedure that was adopted requires a majority vote of the ethics committee – a committee evenly split between Republican and Democratic members – to initiate an investigation into an ethics complaint. Previously, to avoid inaction, a complaint automatically triggered at least an investigation within 45 days if the committee was deadlocked. Now the committee will need a majority vote to even begin looking into the validity of ethics complaints. This requirement will halt most investigations.
This cynical and destructive action by House Republican leaders shows how the political game is sometimes played by the powerful in Washington: When caught red-handed, change the rules. It turns a dysfunctional ethics system into a virtually non-functioning ethics system. The only winners will be those special interests that peddle influence with Congress so they can feed at the public trough.