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Castle, Platts Propose Tougher Ethics Measures

Reps. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Todd Platts (R-Pa.) have jumped into the debate over the future of the Office of Congressional Ethics, calling for the fledgling office to be given subpoena powers.

The duo outlined their proposal along with a host of other ethics, campaign and lobbying reforms in the Accountability and Transparency in Ethics Act, introduced last week.

But the moderate Republicans’ bid to expand the OCE’s investigative powers appears unlikely to succeed.

The OCE, which reviews potential rules violations and recommends investigations to the House ethics committee, was not given subpoena powers when House lawmakers created the office in 2008 in an attempt to add transparency to the ethics process.

More recently the OCE has drawn the ire of some Members, such as Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who authored legislation in May that would significantly cut back the office’s powers to open and pursue investigations of lawmakers.

While Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has stated there are no plans to overhaul the OCE before the next Congress convenes, she has not ruled out reforms to the office.

“Any entity like that, as we go into a new Congress, would be subject to review,” she said in early June.

But Platts and Castle are also unlikely to find support among their own caucus, which voted en masse against the OCE’s creation in early 2008.

House Minority Leader John Boehner stated in late July that, should Republicans resume the majority in the 112th Congress, he would “take a look” at the OCE.”

“It’s pretty clear that when this was created, the type of coordination and ground work that should have been laid was not, and so there are questions that remain about how it works and how effective, in fact, it is,” the Ohio Republican said at that time.

U.S. PIRG’S Lisa Gilbert praised the measure but acknowledged the proposal must also contend with an election year calendar.

“There’s only going to be so much bandwidth when they get back in September to do anything,” Gilbert said. “Whether or not it moves forward in this session or a future session, it’s important to protect the Office of Congressional Ethics as it stands now.”

In addition to fortifying the OCE, Castle and Platts proposed new provisions barring Congressional candidates from paying their “spouses and other immediate family members” from campaign funds, mandating Congressional ethics training for registered lobbyists, and expanding the “cooling off” period for former House lawmakers and senior aides to two years before they can lobby for their former colleagues.

“Recent and past ethics violations by a handful of elected officials illustrate the critical need to further strengthen Congressional ethics rules in order to bring additional accountability and transparency to the federal government,” Castle said in a statement.

He did not cite specific allegations against his fellow House lawmakers, but the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct announced last month that two senior Democrats will face separate ethics trials this fall.

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