Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

House Leaders Have a Fiduciary Duty to Protect the Institution

Many outside observers are nervous that the ethics committee will use its charge of bad faith to refuse to publish the report, which would be a serious blow to the independence and vitality of this new and important component of the ethics process — one that, I might add, was bitterly opposed by many House Members and came into existence only because of the forceful efforts of Pelosi. Boehner opposed the office but, to his great credit, picked superb choices to fill his party’s slots. A lot of Members, including many under some real or potential investigation, would love to see the OCE disappear. The ethics committee, sadly, seems to see the OCE not as an asset, taking some of the burden and cloud of suspicion that always surrounds the ethics process off its shoulders, but as a turf rival.

I do not doubt the integrity or good faith of Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), the chairwoman and ranking member of the ethics panel, respectively. But I also know that Skaggs, Goss, former Reps. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.) and Abner Mikva (D-Ill.) and their colleagues on the OCE who were unanimous in their report on Graves, as they have been on every report that they have sent on to the ethics committee, would never do anything untoward.

I hope and expect that we can chalk this dispute up simply to differences in the interpretation of data. But we cannot ignore the wider implications of the dispute, including the ugly, public spat at a critical time for ethics integrity in the House. This requires Pelosi and Boehner to step up and intervene, making sure that the independence of the OCE is preserved and that the ethics committee, under its strong leadership, fills its proper role.

Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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