Lack of Subpoena Power Will Hinder New Congressional Ethics Office

The new ethics procedures passed in the House this week fall short of what is needed to respond to the overwhelming mandate voters gave the incoming 110th Congress to clean up Washington.  Given this week's failings, it should come as no surprise to Congress if voters yet again express their frustrations at the polls this November.

While the new process will establish an Office of Congressional Ethics composed of independent investigators, the office will lack access to subpoena power, which is needed to ensure cooperation from Members of Congress, congressional staff, and outside groups and individuals.  Without the legal power to conduct complete and thorough investigations, this new system will simply not provide the necessary enforcement of ethics rules.

Earlier this Congress, the leadership successfully pushed for enactment of historic lobbying and ethics legislation which requires disclosure of "bundled" campaign contributions from lobbyists, limits special-interest-funded travel and gifts to legislators, and requires disclosure of "earmarks" directing federal spending to a legislator's pet projects.

Now, on the enforcement issue, the House has balked.  The League of Women Voters is disappointed that this system is the best the House is willing, or able, to achieve.  We predict that this new Office of Congressional Ethics will prove to be inadequate and will have to be revisited when the next wave of public scandals arrives.

Editor's Note: For more information on Congress' new ethics office, see Susan Crabtree's story on the newly approved office in The Hill.