Moreover, the Ethics Committee remains crippled by rampant partisanship or cronyism depending on the instance. The outside counsel’s report on the committee’s shamefully botched ethics investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., revealed a committee process riven by suspicion, staff firings and allegations of partisan bias. The House Ethics Committee remains an embarrassment to the institution, as it has been for a generation.
The proposals offered by the private defense attorneys might make sense, or at least deserve consideration, if they focused on the actual problem — the Ethics Committee itself or an investigatory subcommittee. That is the appropriate place and time for cross-examinations and procedures and protections for those accused of violations of ethics rules.
But the proposals they offer for the OCE miss the mark by a wide margin. Indeed, they would fundamentally hamstring an entity that is charged only with fact-finding. And their proposal to prohibit the OCE from considering the refusal of potential witnesses to participate in the fact-finding in their findings is contrary to standard practice in agencies all across the federal government.
Despite its exemplary record, the OCE’s survival remains tenuous. Too many members fear its independence and its apparent imperviousness to attempts to bend it to partisan purposes. The attorneys’ effort to shape a process to be more amenable to their clients is understandable as they are paid top dollar to tilt the field in their clients’ favor.
But their proposals raise more potential mischief than potential improvements. What they seek is nothing less than to hamstring the only part of the House ethics process that has worked in nearly two decades. Elected officials owe their constituents better than that. They need to show the folks back home that they don’t see themselves as being above the law by virtue of their election.
Meredith McGehee is policy director of the Campaign Legal Center and heads McGehee Strategies, a public interest consulting business.