CNN Exclusive: Despite voting against its creation, Boehner will keep independent ethics panel
December 21st, 2010
08:19 PM ET
3 years ago

CNN Exclusive: Despite voting against its creation, Boehner will keep independent ethics panel

Washington (CNN)– Although he opposed its creation, incoming House Speaker John Boehner will keep an outside ethics watchdog– the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) - intact when the GOP takes control of the House of Representatives in January.

The independent, non-partisan panel investigates allegations of wrongdoing by House Members.

Some outside reform groups, concerned that a Republican-led House might do away with the office, have lobbied Boehner, R-Ohio, to retain it. The office, which can initiate its own investigations, was established in 2008 by the current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. But most Republican leaders, including Boehner, voted against its creation. A board of eight private citizens-non-House Members-oversees the office; four board members are appointed by Democrats and four are appointed by Republicans.

A copy of the language included in the House Rules package that Republicans will unveil Wednesday– and obtained by CNN– shows virtually identical wording to the language that Democrats used in their rules for the current session of Congress.

GOP Transition chief Greg Walden, R-Oregon, told reporters last week that ethics was not an issue that Republicans focused on when mapping out changes to the House rules.

"As I've said from day one that wasn't on our list of activities and the only group that I'm aware of that's suggested doing away with the OCE is a proposal from the Congressional Black Caucus, so I do not anticipate any change," Walden said.

Last summer, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, led by Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, proposed changes to the office to limit information it could release about its work and change the standards of proof it would need to pursue investigations.

The proposal followed the OCE's referral of a case against California Democrat Maxine Waters, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, to the House ethics committee.

Waters has challenged the charges, calling them unfounded, and the ethics committee postponed a scheduled hearing on the case in September.

The office does not have subpoena power, but it can launch probes independently. After the OCE reviews matters, its members can vote to forward its findings to the House ethics committee, which conducts formal probes and ultimately decides whether a Member of Congress has violated any House rules. OCE publicly releases information on its investigations each quarter, which is one reason that Members of both parties have criticized it, arguing that releasing information on alleged violations before investigations are completed makes a member appear guilty before having any opportunity to respond.

Brendan Buck, spokesman for the GOP transition team, says the office will continue to operate without any changes in the 112th Congress.

"It will continue to operate and can make its own personnel decisions," Buck said.

A planned 5% across the board budget cut for House offices next year would apply to leadership, committee and Member offices, but would not affect the OCE.

The GOP transition team was tasked with making suggestions for changes to the House rules. They plan to post their rules, which will govern the chamber, online on Wednesday. Approving these rules is one of the first orders of business when the new Congress is sworn in on January 5th.

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Four and The Door

    Americans from across the country have spoken and for the first time in 2 years Washington politicians are listening. Yes.

    December 21, 2010 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  2. DAVE

    well thats a surprise! the right first positive step taken by the new leader of the house. people respect congressman who work from their american heart before working only at all cost to either ideology that has poisoned our congress into the worst i have ever seen in my 60 years. its a first step only lets see how lang it last!

    December 21, 2010 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  3. Myron

    I'm not a fan of Boehner, but I have to give him credit for a big, important move here. He ought to be applauded for putting politics aside and doing the right thing.

    December 21, 2010 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  4. GonzoinHouston

    He won't interfere with the board until it investigates a few republicans. Then he'll gut it.

    December 21, 2010 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  5. Cry baby Boehner

    Boehner was warned by the Tea Party to keep the Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission should get ready for it's first defendant congressman from Florida....Get your popcorn ready!

    December 22, 2010 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
  6. Pretzel Logic

    Must be nice being in the GOP these days. "Although I thoroughly oppose this cake, it's baking and the ingredients involved in it's creation, I have concluded that for the sake of the American people, I must to the best of my abilities partake in the eating of said cake along with a tall cold glass of milk, which will subsequently cost the American taxpayer $800M – $2.49 for the milk, $799,999,997.51 in various cost overruns and earmark allotments which I rigorously oppose while simultaneously and reluctantly voting for their approval."

    December 22, 2010 04:06 am at 4:06 am |
  7. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    Boehner will keep it – until the first Republican gets called-out, then he'll disband it, quickly! Just watch! Of course, he'll have a good cry over it, first, but he will disband it!

    Besides, he has more important things to do like breaking-up health care reform to make room for the GOP's non-existent plan, right?

    December 22, 2010 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  8. Tony

    This is not a surprise. If there is one thing that Republicans know how to do (besides cutting taxes and causing deficits) it is to investigate Democrats. Republicans turned that into a full-time occupation after they took over Congress in 1995. We are heading for a re-run. Of course, 1996 turned out to be pretty good for Democrats after Republicans predictably overreached.

    December 22, 2010 07:55 am at 7:55 am |