Saturday, March 20, 2010

On Ethics, Let the Minority Rule

Both remedies in the article have its pitfalls, minority party in charge, witch hunts; majority party in charge, witch hunts and stonewalling. Maybe dual chairmanships, each presides over the other parties ethics violations. Couple this with equal representation on the committee and you have the ability to forestall frivolous attacks. After that you would need men of principle to break any political stalemates and prove to the electorate that Congress can be ethical and worth its salt.

Yet the deeper problem may be structural, within the rules of the House itself -- specifically, the rules governing the ethics committee.

Though the House ethics committee (technically, The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct) is made up of five Republicans and five Democrats, the chair is always chosen from the party that holds the majority in the House. Though it is meant to be independent, in practice, the committee's leadership is accountable to the Speaker and obeys the majority party's priorities, whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge of Congress.

Even when the ethics committee does its job properly, leadership by the majority party can create the impression that investigations are motivated purely by political concerns. That is the charge levied by Rep. Massa and others who claim they were threatened with ethics investigations to silence their opposition to the Obama administration's health care legislation.

The moral of the Massa mess is that the House must pass a rule-change requiring the leader of the ethics committee to be chosen by, and from, the minority party. This practice is common throughout the British Commonwealth. In the House of Commons, for example, the chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts is Edward Leigh, a member of the Conservative opposition.
Read article and great comments here.

No comments:

Post a Comment