Are GOP Leaders Quietly Trying to Axe Office of Congressional Ethics?


"There is not a doubt in my mind that they are going to do everything they can do to make the Office of Congressional Ethics go away or be ineffective," said Lloyd Leonard, senior director of the League of Women Voters. The nonpartisan group is organizing a press event to call on Republican leadership not to shut down the OCE.

Republicans maintain that the only people publicly calling for the ethics office's elimination are Democrats, referring to the Congressional Black Caucus.

The Office of Congressional Ethics is low on friends – both Democratic and Republican – because according to Leonard, it does its job well, living up to outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's goal to "drain the swamp" of corruption in the House.

Is the House GOP Targeting Ethics Office?

"If you drain the swamp," said Leonard, "all the crocodiles get nervous."

Incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in the past that he has tried to do all he can to hold members to the highest ethical standards. Yet the Texas congressman voted against the OCE's creation in 2008, and has publicly questioned its effectiveness.

"You can judge our effectiveness based on our work," said Jon Steinman of the Office of Congressional Ethics. "Before there were maybe one or two published ethics reports every decade, and we've published 12 in counting just in this Congress."

In addition, the office has conducted 69 reviews, recommended the House ethics committee take further review in 21 of those cases, and dismissed 17. Beyond numbers, the OCE has cast an uncomfortable spotlight on members. It has also unearthed wrongdoings that would have gone unnoticed, such as those uncovered in the 2008 investigation of the PMA group, a lobby group whose clients received millions in federal "earmarks" after making generous donations to a series of Democratic congressmen.

Nonpartisan groups believe bolstering the Office of Congressional Ethics would be the best way to ensure Washington does not relapse to business as usual.

"It would be helpful for them to have subpoena power, and we should have some entity like this over in the Senate," said Ellis, of Taxpayers for Common Sense. The authority to issue subpoenas is currently under the clout of the House ethics committee.

The Office of Congressional Ethics did have some friends in Congress, among them Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Flake has publicly supported the ethics committee in the past, but now he is keeping his views to himself. ABC News asked the congressman about the OCE's impact so far, and whether he wants the see the office in action next year.

"We're going to hold off on weighing in on this until we have a clearer idea of what [the] OCE's status is in the next Congress," Flake's representatives said.

The Office of Congressional Ethics would also like a clearer idea of its future role under GOP leadership. For now, however, the only thing that seems certain, is the uncertainty of the OCE's fate come January.

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