Moments ago, the House of Representatives defeated an amendment by Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to slash 40% of the funding for the Office of Congressional Ethics, the House’s independent ethics watchdog. However, more than a hundred congressman — including 73 Republicans and 29 Democrats — voted to weaken the agency — with many more changing their vote before the final count was tallied. The amendment was offered to the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, which is expected to pass the House later today.
Today’s attempt to reduce funding for OCE, combined with previous efforts to eliminate the agency, may be an example of a not-too-subtle message from certain members of Congress that the agency should refrain from being too vigorous in its investigations. In other words, OCE is having an effect in deterring and identifying misconduct. That’s all the more reason to strengthen the agency.
OCE provides some much-needed transparency to the ethics process, and gives members of the public the opportunity to suggest matters for consideration. It is also intended as a palliative to the often politicized House Ethics Committee and the cloud of controversy that often follows the Ethics Committee’s actions.
The Office of Congressional Ethics was created after a number of scandals to provide an independent, nonpartisan review of allegations of misconduct against Members, offices, and staff. It should be strengthened, with more funding and enhanced powers.
Update #2: We’ll shortly publish a blogpost exploring connections between Members investigated by OCE and Members votes on cuts to OCE
Update #1: here’s the roll call vote (from the House)