Honest Enforcement

Honest Enforcement

What Congress Can Learn From Independent State Ethics Commissions

Book - 2007
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Some argue that last year's scandals, which lead to the conviction of two congressmen and several top aides, are evidence that ethics enforcement in Congress works. The actual facts leading up to the convictions, however, are more an indictment of the current process than a testament to its success. A whistleblower who took his case to the media and the U.S. Department of Justice -- not the House and Senate ethics committees -- uncovered the dealings of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Neither the House nor the Senate ethics committee has indicated publicly that they have looked into the matter or considered if other members of Congress broke any Senate or House rules, regardless of whether outside laws were broken. Among the many concerns, the secrecy of the process provides no assurance to the American people that members take these scandals seriously. Although Congress recently passed strong new rules to limit undue access by powerful interests, the federal ethics enforcement process is flawed in many ways. The House and Senate ethics oversight committees are comprised of colleagues who know and work with one another and who rely on one another's support for legislation or campaign contributions, creating both the appearance and practice of a conflict of interest. Committee members have no guaranteed terms and can and have been removed as recently as 2006 for taking actions in the course of their work of which their colleagues disapprove. Complaints in the House can only be filed by other colleagues, limiting the ability of outside and more impartial observers to make their concerns heard. While not every state has experienced the level of corruption uncovered in Congress last year, state legislatures face similar challenges. How should legislative ethics rules be enforced? How can lawmakers identify and hold accountable colleagues who cross the line and reassure skeptical voters that they are honest brokers of public policy and taxpayer money? We decided to examine if state governments have had any success in creating an important layer of independence between the investigators and those being investigated -- the state legislators. We found that the states are far ahead of Congress in understanding the inherent conflict of interest of colleagues overseeing colleagues. In fact, as of January 2007, at least 23 states had established independent commissions, boards or offices to oversee enforcement of ethics rules for their state legislators.
Publisher: [Boston : U.S. PIRG, 2007]
Branch Call Number: JK2488 .P57 2007x
Characteristics: 15 p. ; 28 cm

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