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Reform Groups Urge Office of Congressional Ethics to Steer Clear of Procedural Minefield

Campaign Legal Center • Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
Common Cause • Democracy 21 • League of Women Voters
National Legal and Policy Center • Public Citizen • Sunlight Foundation • U.S. PIRG

Feb. 13, 2013 
Reform Groups Urge Office of Congressional Ethics to Steer Clear of Procedural Minefield

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Reform groups sent a letter today to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) urging the agency to avoid the procedural minefield of rules changes proposed recently by several private attorneys.

 The reform groups include the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Common Cause, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters, National Legal and Policy Center, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation and U.S. PIRG.
 On February 4, 2013, several private attorneys who represent clients before the OCE objected to its implementation of rules without a public hearing and suggested a series of rules changes that would burden the OCE’s ability to carry out its mission.

 According to the reform groups’ letter sent today:

“The rules changes suggested by these attorneys in a February 4, 2013, letter to OCE are inappropriate for OCE as currently structured and would impede the agency’s ability to make the ethics process more accountable and transparent.”

 The reform groups pointed out that the OCE is merely a fact-finding agency with no authority to compel testimony, determine guilt or innocence, or in any way judge a case. The agency screens out frivolous cases and compiles useful information for the House Ethics Committee, if it is decided that further investigation is warranted.

 The letter notes:

“OCE is not an investigative subcommittee of Congress, it is not a prosecutorial agency, and it should not be treated as one. The attorneys propose that the agency’s fact-finding mission be bound by burdensome procedural rules allowing the attorneys to challenge OCE at each step of compiling information. Worse yet, the attorneys propose that OCE not be allowed to consider, or take note of, in its fact-finding record the refusal of potential witnesses to participate in an investigation – tying the hands of the agency and blinding it at the same time.”

 The letter concludes:

“Given its limited authority, OCE has done a remarkable job in making the congressional ethics process more active, accountable and transparent. … We urge you to reject the recommendations submitted to you in the attorneys’ letter of February 4th, which would undermine OCE’s ability to carry out the responsibilities assigned to the agency by the House of Representatives.”

 The letter is available here.