House GOP blasts outside ethics office proposal

House Republicans are lambasting a new Democratic proposal for an outside ethics office even before it is officially released.
           
GOP lawmakers are particularly unhappy with a provision that would allow any two members of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to initiate an investigation into charges against a member, arguing that it would enable partisan witch-hunts.
           
ADVERTISEMENT
According to a two-page summary of the proposal, obtained by The Hill Thursday, a six-member board would oversee the OCE and be appointed jointly if the speaker and minority leader can agree on the choices. If they cannot, the board members would be named through “partisan appointments.”
           
Republicans are working hard to build opposition against the proposal, titled “Democratic Proposal for an Independent Ethics Entity in the House.” They are circulating a document listing ten criticisms, chief
among them the possibility of partisan appointments.
           
“Permitting partisan appointments to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) will inevitably contaminate that panel with the same excessive partisanship that’s too often kept the Ethics Committee from doing its job in recent years,” the GOP document states.
           
They also are taking aim at a provision that would allow the investigation to be halted by only a majority vote in the committee.
           
“That is exactly backward: in every case the OCE’s actions should reflect the will of a bipartisan majority of its board, or it should not act at all,” the GOP document states. “Any lower standard invites partisan abuse.”
           
House Ethics Task Force Chairman Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) and ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) have spent months working out whether to create an outside panel and what powers it would have. A preliminary final proposal was circulated in mid-November.

Several watchdog organizations, such as Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, have criticized the fact that the draft did not allow any outside entities to file complaints against members and lacked the ability to
subpoena witnesses and documents.
           
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created the task force at the beginning of the year after Democrats won back the majority at least in part because of the GOP ethics scandals.
           
Capuano has wanted to wrap up work on the OCE and hold a vote on it before Congress recesses for the year. His office did not immediately comment on the draft or the GOP criticism it has provoked.