Pelosi, Boehner Name Eight Members to Ethics Task Force

Posted January 31, 2007 at 6:52pm

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday asked eight lawmakers to determine whether the House is still capable of enforcing its own ethics rules or whether that job is best left to an outside investigative and enforcement body.

Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.) will chair the newly formed special task force on ethics enforcement, along with Democratic Reps. Marty Meehan (Mass.), Bobby Scott (Va.), and Betty McCollum (Minn.). Boehner tapped Reps. Lamar Smith (Texas), David Hobson (Ohio), Todd Tiahrt (Kan.) and Dave Camp (Mich.) to represent the GOP on the panel.

Smith and Hobson are former House ethics committee members, while Capuano has been his party’s point man this Congress on changing both the chamber’s rules and the Democratic Caucus’ internal guidelines.

Members have been asked to examine similar agencies used by state legislatures and private entities to determine whether Congress would be best served by mirroring those efforts. The task force — which comes in response to Democratic campaign promises to attack corruption in Congress — has to report back to leadership by May 1, 2007.

“In the first days of the 110th Congress, a bipartisan majority passed landmark reforms to restore accountability, honesty, and openness to the House of Representatives,” Pelosi said in a statement. “We broke the link between lobbyists and legislators and set our country back on a path to fiscal discipline. These strong rules are significant steps toward honest leadership; enforcing these rules is critical to ensuring every Member of Congress lives up to the highest ethical standard.”

While Boehner has voiced concerns about an independent body, he did not protest the effort Wednesday.

“I’ve had grave concerns about us abdicating our responsibility as outlined in the Constitution,” Boehner said in a recent interview. “The Constitution makes it very clear that Congress is to decide its rules and enforce them.”

Boehner is not alone in his reservations — Republicans considered the proposal in the 109th Congress during their lobbying and ethics legislation debate, but the idea was scuttled after it became clear that there was opposition on both sides of the aisle.

Outside advocacy groups have long pushed for an independent body to investigate Congress, arguing that the ethics committee in the House has lacked the teeth in recent years to responsibly investigate and govern its members.

Their argument was bolstered in the 109th Congress when then-ethics Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and then-ranking member Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) waged a months-long stalemate over a number of issues that largely left the panel idle while serious accusations were being leveled and federal investigations launched against Members on both sides of the aisle.

In early January, when Democrats took control of Congress, groups such as Common Cause and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington reiterated calls for an outside investigative body.

Any recommendations from the task force would have to go before the full House before they could be implemented.