Pelosi to reappoint same Dems to ethics board she created

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will reappoint the same slate of Democratic members to an outside ethics board she created although she has yet to do so, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the matter.

Pelosi and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are each responsible for appointing four members to the Office of Congressional Ethics’s (OCE) board. The roster must be reappointed at the beginning of each Congress, and as of Wednesday afternoon Boehner had renamed the Republicans on the board but Pelosi had yet to reapprove her slate.

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The delay in reappointing the OCE board members has fueled speculation that some Democratic lawmakers are pushing Pelosi not to reappoint the Democratic OCE team led by former Rep. David Skaggs (D-Colo.) because of the aggressive nature of the more than 60 investigations of members on both sides of the aisle the outside ethics office has conducted since its inception in 2008.

Along with Skaggs, the former chairman who would serve as co-chairman of the OCE, Democratic picks who have served on the board since 2008 include former Democratic Reps. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke (Calif.), Karen English (Ariz.) and Abner Mikva (Ill.).


Republican board members also remain the same. They include former Reps. Porter Goss (Fla.) and Bill Frenzel (Minn.), as well as former House Chief Administrative Officer Jay Eagan and George Mason University law professor and former chief of staff of the Federal Election Commission Allison Hayward.

Omar Ashmawy, a former senior Air Force Judge Advocate General, is serving as the acting staff director and chief counsel after the departure of chief counsel Leo Wise late last year.

Pelosi created the OCE in 2008 to help burnish the House ethics process’s reputation after the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. She encountered strong opposition within her caucus to handing control of any part of the ethics process to a board made up of non-members, but she pushed through the proposal anyway, arguing that House Democrats needed to follow through on a 2006 campaign promise to run the most ethical Congress in history.

Since then, members of Congress, including many Democrats, have chafed at the OCE’s aggressive actions against members of Congress. The OCE has referred a dozen to the House ethics committee for further review.

The OCE has no subpoena power and can only make recommendations to the full ethics committee panel, composed of sitting lawmakers, for further review. Still, the extent and level of ethics scrutiny the OCE has brought is unprecedented in the House, and several targets of the probes, many of them in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and other critics on both sides of the aisle have complained that Pelosi created an entity that has overreached and is out of control.

CBC members have introduced legislation that would curtail the powers of the OCE, and watchdog groups have roundly condemned the proposed modifications and praised the OCE for restoring some credibility to the House ethics process.

Many outside ethics watchdogs expected Republicans to try to gut the OCE at the beginning of their majority control this Congress because the office was not set up as a permanent fixture of the House and requires reauthorization at the beginning of each Congress. But Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) kept the OCE intact – at least for now.

Pelosi also is having trouble convincing Democrats to remain on the full ethics committee after a turbulent year marked by partisan sniping, missteps and feuding over the public trials of Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) has reluctantly agreed to remain as the top Democrat on the panel but asked Pelosi to find a replacement if she could as soon as possible. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) also has publicly said he no longer wants to serve on the committee, nor does he believe it can be taken seriously, after such a rocky year, in its current constitution.

Butterfield advocated a complete overhaul and the appointment of all new members to the evenly divided committee. Instead, Boehner reappointed the Republicans who served last year and tapped Rep. Jo Bonner (Ala.), the top Republican on the panel for the last two years, to chair it.

By late Wednesday, the committee’s website listed only Republicans on its roster. The Democratic side of the roster remained empty.

After a Tuesday Democratic steering committee meeting, a Butterfield spokesman said his boss still does not know whether he will be serving on the panel this year.