United States House Committee on Ethics
The Committee on Ethics, often known simply as the Ethics Committee, is one of the committees of the United States House of Representatives. Prior to the 112th Congress it was known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
The House Ethics Committee has often received criticism. In response to criticism, the House created the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent non-partisan entity established to monitor ethical conduct in the House.
The committee has an equal number of members from each party, unlike the rest of the committees, which are constituted with the majority of members and the committee chair coming from the party that controls the House. This even split has limited its power by giving either political party an effective veto over the actions of the committee.
- Resolutions (H.Res. 6 and H.Res. 62) electing members to certain standing committees of the House of Representatives.
It has many functions, but they all revolve around the standards of ethical conduct for members of the House. Under this authority, it:
- Agrees on a set of rules that regulate what behavior is considered ethical for members (rules relating to gifts, travel, campaign activities, treatment of staff, conflicts of interest, etc. are typical)
- Conducts investigations into whether members have violated these standards
- Makes recommendations to the whole House on what action, if any, should be taken as a result of the investigations (e.g. censure, expulsion from the House, or nothing if the member is found not to be violating a rule)
- Provides advice to members before they (the members) take action, so as to avoid uncertainty over ethical culpability.
The committee has a long history; the first matter it handled was on January 30, 1798, when Rep. Matthew Lyon of Vermont was accused of "gross indecency" after he spat on Rep. Roger Griswold of Connecticut after an exchange of insults (a week later, another complaint was filed against Lyon, this time for "gross indecency of language in his defense before this House"). Since the early days of the House, the Committee's reports have gotten much more technical, delving into the details of campaign finance and other financial arcana.
More recently, during the rise of Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff, there was pressure on the Ethics Committee to take action to admonish members involved in their activities. However, action was slow and blame pointed to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. When the Committee did admonish Tom DeLay for a third time, Hastert fired three Republicans from the panel, including chairman Joel Hefley. The new chairman, Doc Hastings, acted to rein in the panel, leading to a Democratic boycott and preventing a quorum. The stalemate lasted three months until Hastings backed down, but the committee was left broken and unable to take action in the DeLay case, the full Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal, or other cases such as that of Democrat Jim McDermott.
- Hooper, Molly K. (December 22, 2010). "New GOP rules will make it tougher for House to raise debt ceiling". The Hill. Retrieved 2011-01-06.
- Attkisson, Sharyl (October 25, 2010). "A Double Standard for House Ethics?". CBS News.
- Parker, Ashley (December 7, 2010). "Waters Calls for Investigation of House Ethics Committee". The New York Times.
- Pershing, Ben (December 7, 2010). "Despite critics, Hill ethics office likely to survive". The Washington Post.
- Wang, Marian (March 11, 2010). "Investigating the Investigators: How the House Ethics Committee Works". ProPublica. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- Mann, Thomas E.; Ornstein, Norman J. (2006). The Broken Branch. pp. 190–191.
- Bookman, Jay (August 2, 2010). "Rangel, Waters ethics cases represent laudable progress". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- "Tom DeLay's Transgressions: A Pattern of Misbehavior". Common Cause. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- Committee on Standards of Official Conduct official site