Washington Report: Updates From the Capitol

African American jobless rate contracts slightly; White House AIDS summit

Black Lawmakers Seek to Limit Reach of Ethics Office
Before slipping out of town for the Memorial Day recess, a group of 20 Congressional Black Caucus members, led by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), very quietly introduced a resolution (H. R. 1416) to limit the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics. The measure would prohibit OCE from publicizing an ethics referral before there has been a finding of any violation and also would require a sworn complaint from a citizen claiming personal knowledge of an alleged wrongdoing.

It is unlikely that the bill will win much other support and may even ruffle some feathers.

But according to University of Maryland political scientist Ronald Walters, there is a perception that the panel has shown bias against the black lawmakers.

Five CBC members were recently investigated by the panel for violating House rules by participating in a junket to the Caribbean that was financed by corporate sponsors. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York) was the only one to receive admonishment. Citing the late Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, a close Pelosi ally, who was exonerated of what Walters described as “very egregious” charges, he said, “When the only members who are most vulnerable appear to be African American members, there’s something wrong with the process.”

The watchdog was created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to reassure taxpayers that the Democratic-controlled Congress would take ethics violations seriously and provide greater transparency. Two black lawmakers, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina) and Rep. Robert Scott (D-Virginia), sit on the independent, citizen-run panel. OCE doesn’t have the power to sanction lawmakers but acts as an advisory board to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

“The [OCE] was created to provide more transparency in the House of Representatives. It was a commendable goal. We must now perfect its processes to ensure that those aims are achieved in a manner consistent with America’s spirit of justice. The processes must be fair to all people involved,” Fudge said in a statement issued this week by her office. She also accused the OCE of acting as “accuser, judge and jury.”

Skeptics may question both the wisdom and the temerity of introducing such a measure, and though Waters believes it has merit—he’s also pretty certain that it also won’t go anywhere.

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