United States House Committee on Ethics
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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. Members may not serve more than three terms on the committee, unless they serve as chair in their fourth term.
Past committee rosters
- 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.
As a result of the criminal investigation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, there was pressure on the Ethics Committee to take action to admonish members involved in their activities. However, action was slow and the responsibility for impeding its progress was attributed to then-Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Dennis Hastert. When the Committee did admonish Tom DeLay for a third time, Hastert removed three Republicans from the panel, including chairman Joel Hefley, (R-CO). Hastert had his own personal ethical problems, such as when he failed to take action when warned about Mark Foley's sexual relationships with young congressional pages. The new chairman, Doc Hastings (R-WA), acted to rein in the panel, leading to a Democratic boycott and preventing a quorum. The stalemate lasted three months until Hastings backed down. By then 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 ranking Ethics Committee Democrat Jim McDermott (D-WA), who revealed violations by Newt Gingrich without authorization to the press.
On November 16, 2010, Charles Rangel (D-NY) was found guilty on 11 of the 12 charges against him by the adjudicatory subcommittee of the House Ethics Committee. They included solicitation of funds and donations for the non-profit Rangel Center from those with business before the Ways and Means Committee and the improper use of Congressional letterhead and other House resources in those solicitations; for submitting incomplete and inaccurate financial disclosures, for using an apartment as an office despite having Congressional dealings with its landlord and for failing to pay taxes on a Dominican villa.
On March 29, 2010, the OCE released a report dated January 28, 2010, that concluded Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA) appeared to have improperly used his office staff to pressure Georgia officials to continue the exclusive, no-bid state vehicle inspection program that generated hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for his family’s auto salvage business, Gainesville Salvage & Disposal. The Ethics Committee never reported or commented on any investigation of Deal. On March 1, 2010, Deal resigned his seat saying he was concentrating on a run for governor, which excluded him from the Office of Congressional Ethics' jurisdiction. Besides Deal, another Georgia Republican, Rep. Paul Broun, accused of paying a consultant with taxpayer funds in his 2014 bid for a U.S. Senate race, avoided answering to charges by losing that primary and leaving office.
The OCE discovered, via a difficult investigation, that a 2013 trip nine members took to Azerbaijan was paid for by funds laundered for the purpose from the Azerbaijani government. The Ethics committee had asked the OCE to drop the case, only approving release of a summary finding in 2015, deeming the full report “not appropriate for release because the referral followed the OCE Board’s decision not to cease its investigations.”
On January 2, 2017, one day before the 115th United States Congress was scheduled to convene for its first session, the House Republican majority voted 119–74 to effectively place the OCE under direct control of the House Ethics Committee, making any subsequent reviews of possible violations of criminal law by Congressional members dependent upon approval following referral to the Ethics Committee itself, or to federal law enforcement agencies. The new rules would have prevented the OCE from independently releasing public statements on pending or completed investigations. House Judiciary Committee chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) defended the action on the rules amendment saying it "builds upon and strengthens the existing Office of Congressional Ethics by maintaining its primary area of focus of accepting and reviewing complaints from the public and referring them, if appropriate, to the Committee on Ethics." House Republicans reversed their plan to gut the OCE less than 24 hours after the initial vote, under bipartisan pressure from Representatives, their constituents and the President-elect, Donald Trump. In addition to negative Trump tweets, criticism was widespread including from Judicial Watch, the Project on Government Oversight, former Representative Bob Ney (R-OH), who was convicted of receiving bribes, and Abramoff, the lobbyist who provided such bribes.
- 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.
- Norm Ornstein, This Isn't Dennis Hastert's First Scandal, The Atlantic (June 3, 2015).
- 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.
- Newman, Andy (November 16, 2010). "Rangel's Ethics Violations". The New York Times.
- de Vogue, Ariane (November 16, 2010). "Rep. Charles Rangel Convicted of Violating House Ethics Rules". ABC News.
- Kocieniewski, David (November 16, 2010). "Rangel Found Guilty By Ethics Panel". The New York Times. p. A24.
- March 29, 2010, by Eric Lipton (March 29, 2010). "Ethics Report Faults Ex-Congressman". The New York Times. Retrieved January 5, 2017.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- OCE (March 26, 2010). "Review No. 09-1022" (PDF).
- Justin Elliott (March 1, 2010). "Did GOP Rep Resign To Squelch Ethics Probe?". Tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
- Greg Bluestein (July 3, 2013). "Deal sells controversial salvage yard as he prepares for 2014 election". Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
- Embattled congressional ethics office previously probed Nathan Deal, Paul Broun, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Tamar Hallerman, January 4, 2017. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
- Rep. Broun leaves congress with ethics case hanging, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Bret Schrade, January 10, 2015. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
- House GOP’s Blueprint To Gut Ethics Office Looks Like It Was Copied From Azerbaijan Scandal, Huffington Post, Laura Barron-Lopez, January 4, 2016. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
- Lipton, Eric (2017-01-02). "With No Warning, House Republicans Vote to Gut Independent Ethics Office". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-01-04.
- CNN, Deirdre Walsh and Daniella Diaz. "House GOP guts ethics panel". CNN. Retrieved 2017-01-04.
- Cassata, Donna. "House GOP votes to gut independent ethics office". Pilotonline.com. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- "House Republicans Back Down on Bid to Gut Ethics Office". The New York Times. Washington, DC. January 3, 2016. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
- After Backlash, Including From Trump, House GOP Drops Weakening Of Ethics Office, National Public Radio, Susan Davis & Brian Naylor, January 3, 2016. Retrieved 4 January 2016.