Ethics Rules Get Minor Tweak for 111th

Posted January 5, 2009 at 6:49pm

House Democrats will leave the chamber’s ethics rules largely untouched in the 111th Congress following major revisions in the last session, senior Democratic aides said Monday.

Although several government watchdog groups urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) to make adjustments to existing rules — including those governing disclosure of job negotiations and how quadrennial convention parties are funded — the House Rules Committee appears to have fine-tuned only one guideline.

The rules package is expected to be voted on today in the House.

According to senior Democratic aides familiar with the 111th Congress rules package, rules that require Members and senior aides to report on employment negotiations outside of Capitol Hill will be amended to include lame-duck lawmakers. Those Members had been excluded from the reporting requirement under existing rules.

Several government reform advocates praised the mend — “At least what they did was good,” said Sarah Dufendach, Common Cause’s vice president for legislative affairs — while lamenting the rule package does not appear to contain additional adjustments.

“We’re disappointed that the changes recommended by reform groups to strengthen certain parts of the ethics reforms were not incorporated into the House rules for the new Congress,” Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said.

“We strongly supported the new ethics rules and continue to believe that they represent landmark changes,” Wertheimer said. “We also felt that there were a couple of areas where the provisions dealing with lobbyist-funded parties at the conventions and job negotiations should have been strengthened, and we’re sorry that they were not. We will continue to look for ways to strengthen these provisions and continue to monitor the implementation of the new ethics rules in the new Congress.”

The reform advocates had sought additional changes, including greater transparency to the employment negotiation rule.

Under existing rules, Members must file a notice with the House ethics panel when they enter into negotiation for new employment. However, that notice is not made public unless the House lawmaker files a second notice recusing himself from votes.

“Clearly the intent of that provision was to make public any serious negotiations of future employment by Members of Congress,” Public Citizen’s Craig Holman said. “It’s been interpreted … inadequately.”

“Instead of making disclosure go to the Clerk of the House, the disclosure of future employment goes to the ethics committee, and they don’t make anything — hardly anything — public record,” he added.

In addition to making the negotiation notices publicly available, Public Citizen, Democracy 21 and Common Cause, as well as the League of Women Voters, U.S. PIRG and the Campaign Legal Center, sought to include a specific definition of what constitute “negotiations,” as well as to define when Members must recuse themselves from a vote, rather than leaving it to the lawmaker’s discretion.

During the 110th Congress, only three House Members filed recusal forms, then-Reps. Al Wynn (D-Md.), Richard Baker (R-La.) and Robert Andrews (D-N.J.).

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.