Ethics in Government Act
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (July 2011)|
|Long title||A bill to establish certain federal agencies, effect certain reorganizations of the Federal Government, to implement certain reforms in the operation of the Federal Government and to preserve and promote the integrity of public officials and institutions, and for other purposes.|
|Nicknames||Ethics in Government Act of 1978|
|Enacted by||the 95th United States Congress|
|Effective||October 26, 1978|
|Statutes at Large||92 Stat. 1824|
|Titles amended||Title 5 USC 101: Appendix|
|United States Supreme Court cases|
|Morrison v. Olson, April 26, 1988|
The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 is a United States federal law that was passed in the wake of the Nixon Watergate scandal and the Saturday Night Massacre. It created mandatory, public disclosure of financial and employment history of public officials and their immediate family. It also created restrictions on lobbying efforts by public officials for a set period after leaving public office. Last, it created the U.S. Office of Independent Counsel, tasked with investigating government officials.
Title I requires men and women in the public service sector to fill out financial disclosure forms which include the sources and amounts of income, gifts, reimbursements, the identity and approximate value of property held and liabilities owed, transactions in property, commodities, and securities, and certain financial interests of a spouse or dependent.
The report must then be filed to the appropriate state officer of his or her state, and the committee charged with issues of ethics in his or her respective house of Congress. The President, Vice President, counsel appointed to the United States Department of Justice, and nominees to positions that require United States Senate confirmation must file with the Director of the Office of Government Ethics.
People that must file reports include, but are not limited to: the President, Vice President, employees and officers of the Executive Branch, Postmaster General, the Deputy Postmaster General, each Governor of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service and each officer or employee of the United States Postal Service or Postal Regulatory Commission.
Disclosure must also be made available to the public shortly after they are submitted.
The Attorney General of the United States can bring charges against anyone who falsifies information in the reports.
Vote to repeal took place in 1989, and took effect Jan.1, 1991. This title originally governed financial disclosure by executive branch officials, but disclosure rules for all three branches were later consolidated into the first title.
Vote to repeal took place in 1989, and took effect Jan.1, 1991. This title originally governed financial disclosure by judicial branch officials, but disclosure rules for all three branches were later consolidated into the first title.
Title IV created the Office of Government Ethics. The Office of Government Ethics' director is appointed by the President, and approved by the Senate. He or she is charged with providing direction on Executive Branch policies of disclosure, and collaborates with the Attorney General in investigations of ethics violations.
Title V restricts outside employment on people making above $120,000 a year with adjustment for location as of 2011. He or she cannot be employed by an “entity which provides professional services involving a fiduciary relationship,” have his or her name used by that entity, work on the board of that entity, or teach without prior authorization by the appropriate government ethics department or figure.
It increased length of prohibition of lobbying work in front of the agency that he or she was employed by from one to two years.
Finally, it allows for judges to teach when not on active duty.
Title VI amended Title 28 of the U.S. Code.
It requires the Attorney General to investigate specific allegations of federal offenses by the President, Vice President, individuals at specified salary levels in the Executive Office of the President and the Department of Justice, any Assistant Attorney General, the Director and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, all such specified individuals who held office during the incumbency of the President or during the period the previous President held office, if such preceding President was of the same political party as the incumbent President, and any officer of the principal national campaign committee seeking the election or reelection of the President.
The Attorney General must decide if there is merit to the allegation within 90 days. If so, he or she must have a special prosecutor appointed who has all the power of the Department of Justice office except those specific to the Attorney General. The special prosecutor is chosen through a system wherein the Chief Justice of the United States appoints a panel of three judges from the Circuit Court of Appeals, one of which must be from the District of Columbia, who serve three-year terms and choose the special prosecutor. The special prosecutor has the authority to send any information to the United States Congress that he or she deems relevant and can provide counsel in issues that may call for impeachment of the person under investigation.
The special prosecutor can only be removed by impeachment and conviction by congress, or by the Attorney General for “substantial improprieties” or a physical or mental condition that affects performance.
The Department of Justice is required to suspend all investigations within the realm of the special prosecutor.
The Attorney General has the authority to declare anyone disqualified from participating in an investigation because of conflict of interest.
The most adamant critics of the Ethics in Government Act were the congressmen who passed it. It was said that if it had been an anonymous vote, it would have been voted down two-to-one. The Act was passed shortly after the resignation of Richard Nixon, the Saturday Night Massacre and a variety of other scandals on the national level. It was the first time in U.S. history when misconduct was a dominant narrative in the mainstream press. After passing a pay-raise for itself, Congress felt it needed to placate the public with the Ethics in Government Act.
When passed, the bill’s most controversial feature among Congressmen was its limit on outside income, which could be no more than 15 percent of his public service income. Said restriction did not limit stocks or bonds. It was even said that there were about a half-dozen Representatives who would not speak to the Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill, because he pushed the Act through. Their claim was that the Act favored people with “unearned” wealth, people who already had it, over people with “earned” additional income, usually with a law practice on the side. Democratic Representative David R. Bowen of Mississippi called the ethics climate of the time a “witch-hunt.”
The critique most often cited by opponents of the Act is Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion in the case Morrison v. Olson. Justice Antonin Scalia took a position as a judicial conservative, citing that the U.S. Constitution gave consolidated power to enforce the law to the Executive Branch, while splitting the power to legislate between the United States House of Representatives and the Senate, and that Legislative Branch’s ability to start an investigation was a breach of the separation of powers. He believed that the House of Representatives’ investigation through the use of a special prosecutor “[arose] out of a bitter power dispute between the President and the Legislative Branch.”
The most basic criticism of the Ethics in Government Act has been that it repels good people because of its excessive levels of disclosure.
Another concern is the power of the special prosecutor who is required to pursue accusations that the District Attorney couldn’t disprove, allowing for legal harassment in cases many prosecutors say they would have thrown out were it not required for them to follow up on the accusations. It was a critique often cited by Republicans during the Supreme Court case of Morrison v. Olson, and then became popular among Democrats during Kenneth Starr’s three and a half year investigation of President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
The effectiveness of the Office of Government Ethics is often questioned, especially as to whether it could develop and enforce regulation with limited budget, leadership and prestige.
Many complain public disclosure is a violation of privacy.
- Drew, Elizabeth (August 22, 1977). "A Reporter at Large". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- "Eastland". Ezproxy.library.nyu.edu:16546. 1994-11-06.(subscription required)
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- "Carroll 437". Ezproxy.library.nyu.edu:16546. 1994-11-06.(subscription required)
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- STOCK Act or Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act
- Carroll, James D. "If Men Were Angels: Assessing Ethics in the Government Act of 1978". Policy Studies Journal. 17:2 (1988/1989:Winter). p. 435.
- Cook, Julian A., III, The Independent Counsel Statute: A Premature Demise, Brigham Young Law Review, 4/1999, Bigham Young Law Review - online Archives
- Eastland, Terry. "The Independent-Counsel Regime". Public Interest. 100 (1990:Summer) p. 68 
- Greenhouse, Linda. "Blank Check; Ethics in Government: The Price of Good Intentions. The New York Times. Feb. 1, 1998. Print. Blank Check; Ethics in Government: The Price of Good Intentions - New York Times
- O'Conner, Karen and Larry Sabato. American Government: Continuity and Change. 8th. ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. ISBN 0-321-20918-4
- "Reporter at Large: Congressional Ethics." The New Yorker 22 Aug. 1977. The New Yorker. p. 71-81 Web. The New Yorker Digital Edition : Aug 22, 1977
- Scalia, Antonin. "Morrison v. Olson: Dissenting Opinion". Cornell University Law School. Morrison v. Olson