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“What is clear is that Capuano wants this off his desk, so I think he’s anxious to dump a package out there,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen. “It’s not going to be controversial, except for the fact that it won’t do anything.”
Most reform advocates said the lack of subpoena authority — or any real investigative power — would be the most crippling blow to the strength of the recommended new body.
“There’s got to be some sort of authority by an independent office to conduct investigations, or else almost nothing gets accomplished here,” Holman said.
Reform advocates said granting the body direct-subpoena authority would be the best option, but not the only one. One approach most said they could swallow would give the body the ability to request that the ethics committee itself issue subpoenas. Another approach: a House rules change requiring that Members of Congress and staff respond to inquiries from the body. That would mean the body could not compel the disclosure of bank records, for example, or testimony from people off Capitol Hill, but could question Congressional operatives.
Beyond failing to address their headlining concerns about investigative power and complaints from outside groups, reform advocates said Capuano’s task force appears to have weakened the proposed new body in several less significant ways. Gary Kalman of U.S. PIRG called it “death by a thousand cuts.”
Reform groups are worried the final proposal will fail to protect the new body from interference by the ethics committee, either by arbitrarily removing members or prematurely cutting off investigations.