January 2, 2017

Ethics, Shmethics

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm generally in favor of anything that makes disclosing ethical issues of elected officials easier and more frequent.

Why?
  • We've seen a high number of ethically challenged politicians, and yet it feels like we've barely scratched the surface. 
  • In many states, we see the long-sought-after 'trifecta', where the governor and both houses of the state legislatures are under the control of a single party - and we now have the same thing in Washington again as well. 
  • Too many of our elected representatives, whether local, state or national, are not term limited. 
  • Too many of them are entrenched incumbents and, at least in my neck of the woods, often run unopposed or barely opposed.
  • Too many of them are in office by hook or by crook: gerrymandered districts, onerous restrictions on specific voting demographics, and the like.
In my opinion, there are too many opportunities for unethical behavior to go unchecked, and too many reason for the hen house to be completely separate from the foxes. Which is why it's so fascinating to see what's going on in Washington this week. 

According to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, there's a lot of important stuff for the incoming Congress to do. 
As we embark upon this historic session of Congress, I look forward to advancing real solutions that will reduce government spending, create jobs here at home, protect our communities, and safeguard our freedoms as Americans. The House's priorities for the 115th Congress will focus on the Better Way agenda, which is available online at better.gop. At the top of the agenda is ensuring patients' access to affordable health care by repealing Obamacare and replacing it with patient-centered health care solutions. Another issue that will be front and center is a long overdue overhaul of the tax system... 
Additionally, I am honored to have been chosen to continue my service as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.  The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over some of the most important issues facing our country including constitutional freedoms and civil liberties, legal and regulatory reform, competition and anti-trust laws, terrorism and crime, immigration enforcement and reform, and intellectual property protections... I will continue to advance an agenda focused on making America stronger and more competitive. 
Well, I'm darn glad he spelled out his agenda so we can figure out why Goodlatte decided to take the House's ethical hen house and put it in the mouths of the foxes.

I've re-read his statement a couple of times, and I'm torn as to the supporting reason for making this move even before Day One when the 115th Congress is officially sworn in. Could it be intellectual property protections for the unethical ideas of House members? Making America stronger and more competitive by hiding the bad acts of our legislators? It doesn't seem to have anything to do with immigration, or anti-trust laws (unless you consider the 'anti-trust' it fosters among Americans).

No, I think the winner must be those freedoms and liberties. particularly those of House members, now that the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) will become the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, and will be under the auspices of the House Ethics Committee instead of being an independent group.

Goodlatte notes on his web page that the changes will improve the ethics review process. Honest.
The Goodlatte amendment builds upon and strengthens the existing OCE by maintaining its primary area of focus - accepting and reviewing constituent complaints - while improving upon due process rights for individual under investigations, as well as witnesses called to testify.
Further:
Feedback from Members and staff having gone through review by the OCE  has been that those under investigation need increased protection of their due process rights, greater access to basic evidentiary standards, and a process that does not discriminate against them for invoking those rights....
Additionally, because of the sensitive and confidential nature of the investigations, the amendment provides protections against any disclosures to the public or other government entities, and requires that any matter that may involve a violation of criminal law must be referred to the Committee on Ethics for potential referral to law enforcement after an affirmative vote by the Members.  
And we must, of course, protect the members further by providing 'greater certainty' on when investigations start and end and when the Committee is notified, it bars anonymous complaints  and calls for other changes to protect the subject and witnesses.

Republicans have previously tried to limit the OCE, including limiting funding and trying to ensure constitutional rights (Miranda rights?) were protected.  With this amendment passing by a 119 - 74, chances seem good that it'll pass this time.

Kudos to the 74 GOP members who voted against this today, whoever they are - may they find the courage to cast this type of vote again, and again, and again.