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Ex-Ethics Members Seek Reform

Reps. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) and Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) are asking for their GOP colleagues to sign on to an ethics reform proposal the two lawmakers plan to introduce next week.

Under the Hefley-Hulshof plan, dubbed the “House Ethics Reform Act of 2006,” all privately funded travel for lawmakers and staff would have to be approved by the House ethics committee prior to the trip, including the source of funding and their itinerary.

Any gifts to Members worth more than $20 would have to be disclosed, and lobbyists themselves would be required to file reports on any gifts valued at more than $20. All this information would be made available online.

Hefley and Hulshof also want to grant the chairman and ranking member of the committee the power to issue subpoenas earlier in the investigative process when complaints are filed or the committee initiates its own investigation. Under current panel rules, an investigative subcommittee must be approved by the full ethics panel before any subpoenas can be issued. Hefley sought this authority several years ago as chairman of the committee, but his suggestion was rejected by the House GOP leadership.

The two also want to formally add to the authority of the panel by allowing it to issue “letters of admonition” to Members for ethics violations. The committee admonished former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) several times late in the 109th Congress, but DeLay challenged its authority to do that. At the time, Hefley and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), ranking member of the committee, cited Senate precedent when issuing the admonitions.

In addition, Hefley and Hulshof want the chairman and ranking member to serve full six-year terms instead of being reappointed every two years by their party leaders. Hefley was replaced as ethics chairman last year by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). Hefley charged that his ouster was in retaliation for the committee’s handling of the DeLay case, while Hastert said Hefley has reached his term limit as chairman.

Hulshof also was replaced by Hastert on the ethics panel in early 2005 after having chaired the investigative subcommittee that spearheaded the DeLay probe.

“As former members of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (Ethics), we have a unique perspective on the shortcomings of current House rules,” Hefley and Hulshof wrote in a letter circulated to their colleagues on Tuesday. “After careful analysis of these rules and based on over a decade of service on the Ethics Committee, we have crafted a common-sense ethics reform package that if adopted will help restore public confidence in the House.”

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