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Groups Ask Pelosi, Boehner to Save Ethics Office

Government reform advocates on Wednesday reiterated their pleas to House leaders to maintain the Office of Congressional Ethics in the next Congress despite criticism from rank-and-file Members.

In letters to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), the reform groups ‘ Democracy 21, U.S. PIRG, Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Public Citizen and League of Women Voters ‘ called for the House leaders to pledge support for the office.

‘We are well aware that efforts are likely to take place at the outset of the next Congress to eliminate or cripple the OCE. This would be a fundamental mistake on the part of House members and would signal to the American people that House members are not serious about ethics and have little interest in enforcing the ethics rules that govern their actions,’ the groups said in the letters.

The House established the office in 2008 in an effort to make the chamber’s ethics process more transparent.

The office reviews potential rules violations and refers investigations to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. It began actively investigating Members in 2009.

The office initiated 69 reviews of Members as of late June, according to the most recent statistics released by the committee, and recommended 12 investigations at that time. It has since issued at least three more referrals for further review.

That activity has drawn the ire of some Members, including Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, who authored legislation in May that would significantly cut back the office’s powers. Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Dan Boren called for the ethics office to be restructured or eliminated in recent comments to an Oklahoma newspaper.

The office has also clashed with the ethics committee in disputes over evidence, deadlines and interpretation of House rules.

Pelosi has previously said she has not ruled out reforms to the fledgling office, and said the OCE will be reviewed at the start of the new Congress.

Boehner said earlier this year that a Republican majority would also review the OCE, asserting there are questions about the office’s effectiveness.

‘We recognize that any new entity like the OCE requires review at the end of its initial stage of operations,’ the reform groups wrote. ‘However, if and when any changes are proposed or considered it is imperative that they must not undermine or hamper the OCE’s ability to ensure that significant potential ethics violations are investigated by the House Ethics Committee. Similarly it is imperative that they must not weaken OCE’s essential role in providing the American people with transparency and accountability in the House ethics enforcement process. We urge you to publicly commit to oppose any such changes.’

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