Check out this piece at the Campaign Legal Center blog today, about the roadblocks to getting a proposed new Office of Congressional Ethics off the ground.
Last year’s ethics reform law put important new restrictions in place for how our DC reps can, and can’t, take advantage of their positions by accepting gifts, travel and meals from people who want their votes. (California could take a page or two from the travel disclosures now required in the Senate.) The House is now getting at the broader problem of enforcing ethics complaints – a task which deadlocked congressional ethics committees have repeatedly fumbled. There’s a fight brewing on the floor over whether an enforcement office is needed at all, and the result is a proposal with some important teeth missing: the office wouldn’t have subpoena power, watchdog groups wouldn’t be able to submit complaints, the ethics committee could override it at any time and it could only recommend action – not do anything itself.
Democratic House leaders promised an ethics revolution, and their credibility will take a blow if they don’t deliver. And the major media (see the NY Times, for instance) approve of the proposal’s six outsiders to investigate complaints as a step in the right direction. Still, I can’t help but be skeptical of a process filtered thorough politicians. Real independent enforcement means outsiders responding to outside complaints, and having the power to sanction abuses without a stamp of approval from the House.