Black Lawmakers Want To Limit New Ethics Office

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Stung by a series of inquiries, nearly half the members of the Congressional Black Caucus want to scale back the aggressive ethics procedures that Democrats trumpeted after gaining control of Congress.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and 19 fellow black lawmakers in the all-Democratic caucus quietly introduced a resolution last week that would restrict the powers of the new independent Office of Congressional Ethics. The office, formed by Congress in 2008, is run by a panel of private citizens.

Black caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif., is among the sponsors, but the full 42-member caucus did not endorse the measure. Lee declined comment through a spokesman.

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The absence of support from top Democratic leaders for Fudge’s proposal — including from House Whip Jim Clyburn, a black caucus member from South Carolina — suggests that it isn’t going anywhere. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered no immediate comment.

Since its inception, the ethics office has investigated at least eight black caucus members, including veteran Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., and five others in that group over privately funded trips to the Caribbean.

Some lawmakers have complained that the increased transparency of the new office is unfair to lawmakers who are ultimately cleared of wrongdoing.

Fudge’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment on the proposal.

The office, which doesn’t have the power to sanction lawmakers, essentially serves as an advisory board to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, a congressional committee run by lawmakers who are charged with policing their colleagues.

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The citizen-run ethics panel is far more open than the notoriously secretive standards committee, publicizing its referrals even when the standards committee finds no violations.

Fudge’s proposal would remove that power, and allow lawmakers on the standards committee to seal from public view the ethics office’s findings on matters deemed meritless.

The resolution also would make it harder for the ethics office to initiate investigations, requiring a sworn complaint from a citizen claiming personal knowledge of an alleged violation. That could prevent complaints from watchdog groups, for example.

It would prevent the standards committee from taking a referral from the ethics office within 60 days before an election in which the subject of the case is a candidate.

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