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A Look Back at the Year in Congressional Ethics

Meanwhile, 2010 also brought an increase in the activity of the Office of Congressional Ethics, the body that was created by the House to review and screen ethics complaints filed by members of the public. According to the OCE’s third-quarter report, through the first nine months of the year it had commenced 44 preliminary reviews of allegations of misconduct. By contrast, in all of 2009 the OCE reported commencing just 25 preliminary reviews.

On the Senate side, things were comparatively quiet in 2010. After admonishing Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) in late 2009, the Senate ethics committee did not take public action against any Senator in 2010.

Looking ahead to 2011, one story to follow will be the fate of the OCE. While the OCE’s public disputes with the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct continued in 2010, some lawmakers sought to rein in the OCE.

In June, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) introduced a bill that would have restricted the OCE’s authority to open investigations and to publish information about its investigations. More recently, questions have been raised about whether the OCE will continue to exist at all. Some GOP leaders opposed the OCE’s creation in 2008, leaving many now wondering what will become of the office when Republicans take control of the House next year.

The OCE’s fate could play a role in what may be the biggest question that lies ahead for 2011: whether the spike in ethics trials was an anomaly or a trend. While the investigation of Rangel began before the OCE even existed, the Waters proceedings originated in the OCE. That begs the question of whether she would ever have faced an investigation, let alone an adjudicatory hearing, but for the existence of the OCE.

Should we expect more adjudicatory hearings next year? Is the latest ethics wave fading? Or is it just getting going? Stay tuned in 2011.

C. Simon Davidson is a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods. Click here to submit questions. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice. Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship.

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