Republican Commitment to Ethics Reform

Thursday January 12, 2006

BACKGROUND:

LEGISLATIVE BACKGROUND ON THE IMPLOSION OF ETHICS PROCESS IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENATIVES

HOUSE REPUBLICANS ATTACKED DELAY’S ACCUSER FOR FILING COMPLAINT CHARGING ETHICS ABUSES:

*Attacked former Congressman Chris Bell for filing an ethics complaint against DeLay, the first in seven years: Republicans attacked former Congressman Chris Bell for filing an ethics complaint against DeLay, the first ethics complaint filed in seven years. DeLay went so far as to call Bell a “partisan stalker.” His lawyer, former Republican Rep. Ed Bethune, accused Bell of libel and tried to initiate contempt of Congress hearings against him. Rep. LaHood (R-IL) immediately proposed legislation that would have blocked legitimately elected, standing members such as Bell from even filing complaints. Rep. Doolittle (R-CA) went as far as threatening that the Republicans “are going to have to respond in kind” comparing it to a matter of “you kill my dog, I’ll kill your cat.” This retaliatory campaign on the part of Republicans was designed to damage the credibility of the ethics process and further discourage Members from filing complaints with the Ethics Committee. [“DeLay to Be Subject of Ethics Complaint; Democrat’s Wide-Ranging Charges Break Unwritten Truce Between Parties,” The Washington Post, 6/15/04; “Shooting the Messenger,” Houston Chronicle, 11/22/04; “LaHood Blasts Ethics Charges Like Bellís,” Roll Call, 6/17/04; “Ethics Panel May Face Busy Lame-Duck Session,” Roll Call, 10/12/04]

HOUSE REPUBLICANS KEPT CHANGING ETHICS RULES TO PROTECT DELAY:

*Changed House ethics rules to let a complaint die in the Ethics committee: Changed House ethics rules to let a complaint die if the ethics committee cannot decide whether it should be investigated within 45 days. [“Warning: Ethics-Free Zone,” The Washington Post Editorial, 3/14/05]

*Changed House ethics rules to allow a Republican veto of ethicsí investigations: Changed House ethics rules to allow a party to block an ethics investigation by voting along party lines, thus denying a majority vote to allow it to proceed. [“After Retreat, G.O.P. Changes House Ethics Rule,” The New York Times, 1/5/05]

*Facing intense public scrutiny and pressure from Congressional Democrats Republicans reversed their own rules changes designed to protect DeLay: House Republicans did an about face by reversing their changes in the aforementioned ethics rules in April of 2005, after facing an intense pressure from House Democrats led by Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV), the ranking member of the House Ethics Committee, and Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), the ranking members of the House Rules Committee.

HOUSE REPUBLICANS CHANGED INTERNAL PARTY RULES TO PROTECT TOM DELAY:

*Changed an 11-year-old conference rule that required party leaders to step down from their leadership post if they were indicted by a state grand jury: On Nov. 17, 2004, the House Republican Conference voted to change an 11-year-old party rule that required party leaders to step down from their leadership post if they were indicted by a grand jury. Their action came shortly after Texas district attorney Ronnie Earle indicted three of DeLay’s associates on charges of violating state campaign laws, The conference reversed itself on Jan. 3 and reinstated the rule. [Richard Simon, “GOP Backs Off on Ethics Changes”, Los Angeles Times, 1/4/2005]

HOUSE REPUBLICANS PURGED THE ETHICS COMMITTEE TO PROTECT DELAY:

*Removed Chairman of the House Ethics Committee who oversaw three admonishments of Tom DeLay: Speaker Dennis Hastert removed Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO) as chairman of the Ethics Committee that oversaw three admonishments of DeLay in 2004. Prior to his removal, Hefley said of Republican colleagues he would not name: “They said I was hurting my career here. The implication is that some form of retribution would be taken.” Hefley also told a newspaper after the third DeLay admonishment: “Iíve been attacked; Iíve been threatened.” [“Ethics Panelís Chair Is the Toughest Seat in the House,” The Washington Post, 1/7/05; “Hefley:’I was threatened’,” The Hill, 10/13/04]

*Replaced two members of the Ethics Committee who both admonished DeLay and voted against the Republican Conference rule changes to protect DeLay: Replaced the two members of the Ethics Committee, Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-MO) and Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH), who both admonished DeLay and voted against the Republican Conference rule changes to protect DeLay, with two Republican loyalists, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Tom Cole (R-OK), who both contributed to DeLayís legal defense fund. “Ethics Purge,” The Washington Post, February 5, 2005]

*Fired several longtime committee staffers: Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), who replaced Hefley as Ethics Committee chairman, fired several longtime non-partisan committee staffers, including John Vargo, the staff director and chief counsel, and Paul Lewis, a counsel. Both Vargo and Lewis had been working on the committee since before Hefley was its chairman. [“Critics Slam Hastings’ Dismissal of Ethics Staff,” Roll Call, February 17, 2005]

REPUBLICANS HAVE STALLED ANY INVESTIGATIONS OF DELAY AND OTHER SCANDALS ENGULFING DOZENS OF HOUSE REPUBLICAN LAWMAERS:

*GOP Ethics Committee Chairman Doc Hastings Stalling on DeLay Probe: In April, House Ethics Committee Chairman Doc Hastings had pledged to launch an immediate probe of Tom DeLay if Democrats agreed to cooperate with him and allow him to organize the Standards of Official Conduct Committee, as it is officially known. Rep. Hastings has now changed his tune, delaying any possible DeLay probe by saying, “Weíre going to start all over.” [Alexander Bolton, “DeLay probe put into limbo,” The Hill, 12/14/05]

*GOP Leadership Scheduling longer Recess to Buy DeLay Valuable Time: The GOP leadership scheduled the second House session of the 109th Congress to begin on Jan. 31, 2006 Ė that is, after a holiday break of more than a month, and two weeks after Senators are due to return to Washington. The late start will give indicted former Majority Leader Tom Delay valuable time during which his money laundering case in Texas can be resolved. As new leadership elections will not occur until the House is back in session, Republicans had hoped their maneuver would allow Mr. DeLay to reclaim his former position. [Ben Pershing, “House Plants to Sit Out January, Roll Call, 12/7/05, Rick Klein, “House Republicans quietly pushing for new leadership,” the Boston Globe, 12/7/05]

HOUSE DEMOCRATS HAVE REPEATEDLY PROPOSED REFORMS IN AN ATTEMPT TO RESOLVE THE BROKEN HOUSE ETHICS CRISIS

House Democrats fought back the Republican attempts to change House ethics rules to protect Tom DeLay:

*Mollohan resolution: Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV), the ranking member of the House Ethics Committee, introduced a resolution (H Res. 131) March 1, 2005 that would undo the Republican changes to the House ethics rules made at the beginning of the 109th Congress to protect Tom DeLay.

*Pelosi’s “privileged” resolution recommending creation of a bipartisan task force: Pelosi introduced a “privileged” resolution March 15, 2005, that would have established a bipartisan task force to recommend changes to House ethics rules. Her resolution failed along party lines with one Republican exception. (To read the resolution and House debate on it, click here. For a breakdown of how House members voted, click here. [Hefley joins Dems on ethics,” The Hill, 3/16/2005]

*Slaughter’s demand to Rules Committee Chair David Dreir to hold hearings on House ethics process: On March 17, 2005, Congresswoman Slaughter (D-NY), ranking member of the House Rules Committee, asked committee chair Dreier (R-CA) in writing to hold hearings on the House ethics process and allow the Mollohan resolution to move forward.

Slaughter’s Recommendations to restore the deliberative process in the “People’s House”: In March of 2005, Rep. Slaughter as the ranking member of the House Rules Committee proposed the following set of recommendations to the Republican House leadership and the Republican Members of the House Rules Committee, as first step in restoring the deliberative process in the “People’s House,” calling for an open and transparent House of Representatives, allowing “the full and free airing of conflicting opinions through hearings, debates, and amendments for the purpose of developing and improving legislation deserving of the respect and support of the people.”:

*Open up the process by allowing more serious amendments. Republican leaders should not be afraid of lively debate and close votes on amendments; instead, they should welcome them as a sign that the democratic process is working in the House.

*Allow more bills to be considered under open rules

*More consideration of major, controversial legislation and fewer suspension bills

*Fewer late-night or early-morning “emergencies” and more regular order

*Give members three days to read conference reports

[“Broken Promises: The Death of Deliberative Democracy: A Congressional Report on the Unprecedented Erosion of the Democratic Process in the 108th Congress,” Compiled by the House Rules Committee Minority Office, The Honorable Louise M. Slaughter, Ranking Member]

Meehan/Emanuel lobbying reform legislation: Congressmen Meehan (D-MA) and Emanuel (D-IL) introduced lobbying reform legislation on May 17, 2005. The Special Interest Lobbying and Ethics Accountability Act would:

*Increase lobbying disclosure requirements and make disclosed information more accessible.

*Slow the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K-Street for members of Congress and staff.

*Crack down on privately funded travel for members of Congress and staff.

*Strengthen oversight and enforcement of lobbying rules.

House Democrats rules reform package:Congressmen Obey (D-WI), Frank (D-MA), Price (D-NC), and Allen (D-ME) announced a reform package in early December of 2005 that would, among other things:

*Put a stop to lobbyists funding or arranging Congressional travel.

*Curb lobbying on the House floor by former members of Congress.

*Prohibit members from using earmarks to buy votes.

*Crack down on the practice of holding votes open to allow for more time through intimidation to twist arms and change votes.

*Give members of Congress a chance to fully read legislation before voting on it.

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