Opinion-Editorial

The ethics process is working

Democrats have kept their promise to restore accountability in Congress

By Rep. Mike Capuano

Originally published in USA Today
March 10, 2010

Under Democratic leadership over the past three years, the House has initiated unprecedented ethics reforms that have produced real results for both members of Congress and the public. When Democrats became the majority, the House ethics process was broken: Members routinely took trips on private jets, earmarks were often "airdropped" into appropriations bills at the last minute without disclosure, and the bipartisan ethics committee had essentially stopped functioning.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi rightly recognized changes were needed to restore accountability and make our work transparent to the public. One of the first initiatives of the 110th Congress was the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which expanded disclosure of lobbying activities (including campaign donations), strengthened gift rules and tightened restrictions on those who leave Congress to lobby.

In addition, I chaired a bipartisan task force on ethics enforcement that created the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. This landmark effort set up an unprecedented process by which non-members of Congress examine ethics allegations against members and refer matters for further review to the ethics committee. The OCE also produces reports that, in most cases, must be publicly released by the ethics committee within a set time frame.

This not only cut through what many referred to as the "black hole" of the ethics committee's process, it also meant the committee was likely to review more allegations and publicly disclose its actions. Indeed, any watchdog group could tell you that the ethics panel has been far more active this past year than in recent memory.

Some claim the ethics panels' actions on some of the most widely reported cases weren't strong enough. But few could dispute that thorough reviews are being conducted. I don't agree with every Supreme Court decision, but I know the judicial process is respected, and it's working. Now the same can be said of the House ethics process.

Are there still reforms the House could enact to improve the system? Undoubtedly, and I know we will continue moving forward on that front. But to imply that Democrats haven't kept our promises to clean up the swamp ignores reality and distorts our accomplishments. The system in place in Congress today shows that we've come a long way and we're dedicated to getting this right.

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Contact: Alison M. Mills (617) 621-6208