“Ethics” has champions. A coalition of 10 conservative groups with “tea party” proclivities — including Judicial Watch, Democracy 21 and National Taxpayers Union — descended on the Rayburn House Office Building on Dec. 2 to urge the incoming House leadership to continue the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) — an independent nonpartisan investigative office that the coalition credits with “pressuring the notoriously inactive House ethics committee to do its job.”
They have research to back the claim: The OCE undertook 69 preliminary reviews in 2009 and 2010, while the House ethics committee doled out 11 disciplinary actions in that same time, “more than twice its activity level during the Jack Abramoff scandal years of 2006 to 2008. The ethics committee took no action around the Abramoff scandals during that period.”
The OCE has generated sizable opposition within Congress, points out American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein — including the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, the Congressional Black Caucus and “many members who would prefer to keep ethics issues much closer to their own vests.” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner and Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, were among those not so keen on the independent office.
“The tea party activists’ involvement has already changed that dynamic, causing Boehner and Cantor to back off their comments about OCE. These tea partiers, and presumably their representatives in Congress, don’t want the old-boy network that long ‘managed’ ethics issues — with both sides conspiring to avoid serious ethics investigations that would roil the waters. They want an honest, open Congress,” Mr. Ornstein says. Thinker. “One question: If he and Sarah Palin run, who would the media hate more?”