Letter: Ask congressman if he voted for OCE changes

From: John Vanderbur


March 2008: After a number of congressional scandals, lawmakers created the Office of Congressional Ethics. This was done with the thought that lawmakers in the House Ethics Committee failed to adequately police members of the House.

The OCE is mandated to investigate allegations of misconduct by members, officers and employees of Congress. The OCE has the authority to review information, and when appropriate, refer findings of facts to the HEC. Also, the OCE has the authority to accept information of alleged wrongdoing from the public as it affects members, officers and employees of the House. This scrutiny was a bridge too far for some and led to the events that I am about to describe on Jan. 2 and 3.

Jan. 2: Longworth House Office Building, Washington D.C.: On this date, a large group of Republican lawmakers gathered for the purpose of amending House rules that would, in effect, dismantle the OCE. Under the direction of Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., they worked in secret for weeks, carefully not leaking to Democrats or the media. The amendment would do the following: (1) Rename the OCE to the Office of Congressional Complaint Review. (2) Prevent OCE from investigating anonymous tips. (3) Prevent referrals of criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors without the express consent of the House Ethics Committee. (4) Prevent the OCE from employing staff to communicate with the public or the media. (5) Prevent OCE from sharing investigative findings with other branches of the government or the public. (6) Limit the OCE jurisdiction to the three previous Congresses (six years).

Although leaders Ryan and McCarthy objected to the amendment, the vote was taken and passed 119 to 74. Late on Jan. 2, Goodlatte announced that the House Republican Conference had approved the changes to the OCE. The full House was scheduled to vote on the rules Tuesday.

Jan. 3: As word leaked out to the public of what took place Jan. 2, Republican officials’ phones were constantly ringing, the media was in full coverage and Donald Trump tweeted his admonitions. The leaders called an emergency meeting of Republican House members in the Capitol basement. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., gave them an ultimatum: reverse course now, among fellow Republicans, or take a public floor vote. He asked for unanimous consent to remove the rule changes; he got it. And it was on this first day of the 115th Congress, a group of congressmen tried to impede the ethos of integrity, honesty and ethical behavior.

If you were to go to Washington, D.C., in search of a congressman of high integrity, you most probably would have to look a long time to find him. Once you found him, you would probably have to push aside all of the lobbyists who surround him. I would suggest that you contact your congressman and ask him if he was one of the 119 who voted for those changes. I did.