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House leaders save ethics unit
Watchdogs feared loss in chaos of ‘cliff’
House leaders reappointed the board of directors for a congressional ethics panel Wednesday, officially allowing the House-funded investigative unit to remain up and running.
Late last year, as lawmakers were struggling to complete their work and negotiate a “fiscal cliff” deal with President Obama, several government watchdog organizations were worried that House leaders might try to kill the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent ethics review panel established in 2008, without any notice in the end-of-the-year shuffle.
A group of 11 watchdog groups in late December called on Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to make the appointments. Each leader names three individuals to serve on the panel, plus an alternate member.
The ethics office, which launches preliminary investigations and makes recommendations to the full ethics committee for further action, has reviewed a record number of cases in its short tenure — and that record hasn’t won it many friends in Congress.
Mrs. Pelosi pushed creation of the independent board through the House when she was speaker to help burnish the members’ poor record of holding their peers accountable for unethical activities.
The measure creating the office narrowly passed — to the frustration of a number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who argue that the Constitution gives only Congress the right and power to police its own ethics.
Four of the ethics office’s six regular board members’ terms were set to expire, and without them, the panel couldn’t take up cases or vote on any matter.
In a joint press release Wednesday, Mr. Boehner and Mrs. Pelosi announced that they were reappointing the acting board with only one change: Former Rep. Abner Mikva, a Democrat from Illinois, former federal judge and White House counsel under President Clinton, gave up his position as an alternate, nonvoting member of the board.
Mr. Mikva, 86, will be replaced by former Rep. Mike Barnes, a Democrat from Maryland and a lawyer who served a stint as president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The rest of the board will remain the same.
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About the Author
Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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