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Pelosi: No Plans to Eliminate Ethics Office

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday threw cold water on calls from some House Democrats to immediately curtail the Office of Congressional Ethics, but she acknowledged the quasi-independent office will nonetheless face reviews at the start of the 112th Congress.

Responding to questions about legislation Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) introduced in late May that would significantly cut back the office’s powers to open and pursue investigations of House lawmakers, Pelosi said Friday: “I’m always listening to what Members have to say and some of them have very good ideas.”

Pelosi added, “Any entity like that, as we go into a new Congress, would be subject to review.”

She later said, however, that there are no plans to eliminate the office in the new Congress, and she rejected a query about whether the House would attempt to “water down” the office: “Nobody’s talking about doing that.”

House lawmakers established the OCE in March 2008 to review potential rules violations and recommend investigations to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the ethics committee.

Some lawmakers, including the 20 members of the Congressional Black Caucus who are co-sponsors of Fudge’s resolution, have criticized the office’s investigations, including adherence to deadlines, and questioned House rules governing the release of documents.

Under current rules, when the OCE refers an investigation to the ethics committee for further review, the House panel must release the report, even if it disagrees with the recommendation and rules a Member did not commit any wrongdoing.

In the event the OCE refers a matter to the ethics panel but recommends dismissal, and the House reaches the same conclusion, it is not required to release those documents. Despite that allowance, however, the ethics committee released five such reports when it completed its investigation of Members and their ties to the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group.

Fudge’s bill would grant the ethics committee new powers to judge recommendations as “frivolous or unfounded” and require that all files in such cases be sealed, barring them from public release.

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