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March 20, 2017

Oh Where, Oh Where Is the House Ethics Committee?

Committee’s Snail Pace to Begin Work Reflects a Lack of Priority for Ethics

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It is more than two months after the beginning of the 115th Congress – an opening day most noted for the failed effort by House Republicans to neuter independent oversight of the ethics process – and the official House Ethics Committee itself is the only formal committee of Congress that has yet to meet and begin work.

Only after queries as to why the ethics committee has failed to organize itself this late in the session, did the committee announce it has scheduled its first meeting for Wednesday, March 22.

“The extraordinary delay in the House Ethics Committee to resume work reflects the lack of priority for ethics in this Congress,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Trump’s brazen refusal to abide by the conflicts of interest and ethics laws of the nation has set the tone that ethics just don’t matter from the top down.”

The absence of the House Ethics Committee also raises technical questions of when, and if, referrals for ethics investigations from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) must become public, as otherwise required by law.

“OCE has been an effective spur to make the ethics process work largely because its referral cases are made public 45 days after being sent to the ethics committee,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen. “The failure of the ethics committee to organize could well be a means by which members of Congress bury OCE referrals so the public never sees them.”

At least one referral from OCE to the House Ethics Committee sent last August has been buried from public view because the committee has failed to organize in the new Congress.

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