Hello internet! Pat Whalen here.
Remember the Jack Abramoff scandal? Me neither. BUT I googled it, and here's the basics:
Jack was a lobbyist for Native American casinos. Among the many illegal things he and his firm did (bribing congressmen mostly) was overbilling his clients for his services. This came out to the tune of about $83M in three years-which is a lot, even for lobbyists!
The Senate Indian Affairs Committee (not Native American Affairs Committee for some reason) caught wind of this in 2004 and started having hearings on Jack's lobbying firm and it's practices. Eventually The Washington Post, the Justice Department and the IRS got in on the fun. Jack, his coworkers and many congressman who took bribes went to jail.
Note that the 'Ethics Committee' was not the one to make Jack explain himself.
In the aftermath of this, the Office of Congressional Ethics was born in 2008. Rather than members of the House Ethics Committee investigating themselves, the OCE was an independent office, accountable to the public-hey, that's us!
"More than anything else the Office of Congressional Ethics has helped to reveal to the public the patent absurdity of the self-policing oversight that members provide through the House Ethics Committee." - Sunshine Foundation
So with the OCE in place, things were super great. Congressmen were caught doing-and therefore discouraged from-things like going to bat for spouses business interests, or taking trips funded by foreign governments. Which again was super great! But without the OCE, these investigations would have never started in the first place.
Here's how it worked: anyone-a journalist, a congressional staffer, even Grammy nominated producer and animal rights activist Moby-could report anonymous tips to the OCE for them to investigate. If evidence was found, the OCE could report their findings both to the public/press and the appropriate law enforcement entity, who would then carry out their own investigation outside of congressional oversight, to ensure impartiality.
Under the proposed changes, that's no longer the case. The OCE can no longer accept anonymous tips (dissuading any career minded individuals in DC), it can't inform the public (in any way), it can't investigate or turn findings over to law enforcement, and the Ethics Committee can halt investigations at any time. Yes! The same Ethics Committee which is comprised of and run by the very Congressmen it would be investigating. Kooky!
What's strange here (2017 strange, not 2016 strange) is that Rep. Goodlatte (possibly the most 2016 name in Congress) has proposed these changes against the wishes of his party leader, Paul Ryan, who spoke out against it in a meeting on Monday before the Republicans carried the measure anyway, 119 to 74. Maybe that's because the changes were proposed in a private, closed-door meeting on a national holiday! But who's to say, really?
(*EDIT: It seems Speaker Ryan has changed his position on the OCE this morning.)
The matter is voted on on Tuesday-coincidentally the first day of the 115th Congress (#draintheswamp)!
In other news, here's a handy site that finds your local congressional representative's contact information for you! In case you have anything on your mind you'd like them to be aware of. Just a thought!
Happy New Year!