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Anti-Corruption Groups Speak Out Against Congressional Assault on Independent Ethics Body

Created: 10 January, 2023
2 min read

The 118th Congress is off to a rocky start. First, it took 15 votes for the majority to elect a Speaker – a debacle that included a scuffle on the House floor. Now, the majority has adopted new House rules that gut (quite literally) the Office of Congressional Ethics. 

RepresentUs, the nation’s largest anti-corruption organization, has spoken out against the new rules, asserting that they will make it harder to identify and fight corruption in Congress.

“What possible explanation could the new majority have for dismantling the Office of Congressional Ethics?” RepresentUs CEO Joshua Graham Lynn said in a statement. 

“Is there a massive pro-corruption movement I’m not familiar with? It’s almost like our elected officials are trying to tank Americans’ faith in government.”

The Office of Congressional Ethics was established in 2008 to be an independent, nonpartisan entity responsible for receiving and reviewing allegations of misconduct against House members, offices, and staff. The OCE refers investigations to the House Ethics Committee if it determines that further review is appropriate.

When the House passed the rules package that would govern how the chamber would function for the next two years, it included two provisions that several good government and anti-corruption groups, including RepresentUs, say will hinder the OCE’s mission.

The first provision, Sec. 4(d)(6), reduces the term limit for OCE Board Members to 8 years, meaning anyone who has been on for longer must vacate their positions. Incidentally, this means 3 out of the 4 Democrats on the OCE board.

The Campaign Legal Center asserts that during the time it takes to fill these seats, the “OCE’s ability to efficiently conduct investigations and publish reports would be severely diminished. 

The second provision, Sec. 4(d)(7), outlines a hiring freeze on the OCE after 30 days of the rule’s adoption. After that deadline, it will not be able to fill staffing vacancies during the remainder of the 118th Congress -- i.e. the next two years.

According to Insider, “the office, which has just one investigative counsel on staff and is actively seeking to hire two more, likely won't have enough time to hire new staff or be able to fill any vacancies that might come in the next two years.”

The OCE may operate independent of Congress, but how it functions can still be impeded by the partisan whims of the House majority. 

“Enough is enough. Members of both parties must strongly oppose opening the floodgates to corruption,” said Lynn. 

“Cracking down on real and perceived corruption is the only way we can start building trust and convincing Americans that the government works for them, not special interests or political parties.”

RepresentUs states that the House majority passed the new rules at a time when more than two-thirds of Americans agree “most politicians are corrupt,” and 70% believe policymakers mainly work “to benefit powerful elites” and not “ordinary people."

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