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Question of the Week: Should the Office of Congressional Ethics Be Independent?

Posted  January 4, 2017

By the C|C Whistleblower Lawyer Team

The Office of Congressional Ethics (“OCE”) was established on March 11, 2008, in response to several high profile allegations of misconduct against House Members. The OCE functions as “an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the United States House of Representatives and, when appropriate, referring matters to the House Committee on Ethics.”

In a closed-door meeting on Monday night, the House Republican Conference voted to place the Office of Congressional Ethics under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee, effectively stripping the office of its independence. Under the proposal, the OCE would be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, and the new office would be forced to cease any investigation if the Ethics Committee made a written request to shut it down. The move, however, was very short-lived:

The day after House Republicans voted to eliminate an independent ethics body, members returned to work on Tuesday to find their offices inundated with angry missives from constituents amid a national uproar.

By midmorning, Mr. Trump had weighed in, questioning the members’ priorities on Twitter. Shortly after, lawmakers were summoned to the basement of the Capitol for a hastily convened meeting with Republican leaders.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader — who, along with Speaker Paul D. Ryan, had opposed the proposal — lobbed a pointed question at his fellow Republicans, according to two people present: Had they campaigned on repealing the Affordable Care Act, or tinkering with an ethics office? Minutes later, members emerged to say the changes had been scrapped.

What do you think? Should the Office of Congressional Ethics be Independent?

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