Hefley, Hulshof Introduce Ethics Reform Bill
(Washington, D.C.) Former House Ethics Committee members U.S. Reps. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., and Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., introduced ethics reform legislation today that would bolster ethics oversight in the House and make members more accountable to the public.
The Ethics Reform Act of 2006 would provide increased investigative ability to the House Ethics Committee and ensure greater protections for committee members and staff. The bill would also improve disclosure requirements for gifts and private travel.
Hefley and Hulshof said strengthening the committee is key to ensuring a credible, bipartisan ethics process in the House.
"We're in an arms race in the House right now as to who is the most righteous," said Hefley. "Republicans and Democrats alike are trying to out-ethics' the other with the result that no meaningful reform is getting done. This bill changes that. It gives the Ethics Committee more teeth and provides greater transparency on the internet in real time for the public to see. And importantly, it is gaining bipartisan support, which is exactly the way ethics rules should be addressed."
"We must take action now and it must be real, meaningful reform if we are to restore the confidence in Congress. The House Ethics Reform Act strikes the proper balance of enhanced disclosure and credible enforcement," said Hulshof.
The bill would require the Ethics Committee to provide ethics training to every representative and a member of their staff during each session of Congress. The committee would then maintain a public list online of members who have completed the training.
Hefley and Hulshof said this would keep members informed about House rules and would hold them publicly accountable for educating themselves about appropriate conduct.
The bill would also give the chairman and ranking member of the committee subpoena power earlier in an investigation to determine if a complaint should be pursued further. Currently, the committee has this ability only after an investigative committee has been formed.
Hefley and Hulshof said this provision would allow the committee to assume a more authoritative role in investigations and would give greater due process to the accused.
"The ability to investigate is an important function of the Ethics Committee," said Hefley. "We need to streamline the process to make information about a complaint more accessible so the committee can do its job more effectively and efficiently."
"The U.S. House of Representatives must have a fully functioning, effective, bipartisan ethics process if we are to restore the public's trust in the institution. Members of the House must be able to police ourselves. To do that, the Ethics Committee must have the tools to properly investigate members and enforce House rules," said Hulshof.
The legislation would protect committee members and staff by requiring approval by two-thirds of the House to remove a member before their term on the committee is up. A majority vote of the full committee would be needed to remove any committee staff.
Hefley and Hulshof said ensuring that members and staff could not be removed for unfavorable decisions on a case would make the Ethics Committee less susceptible to partisan politics.
"The ethics process in the House should be completely free from partisanship," said Hefley. "That can not happen if committee members and staff feel there will be repercussions for the decisions they make. Providing these important protections will allow the committee to follow the evidence where it, and not partisan leaders, lead them."
"In my experience, members of the Ethics Committee are most effective when they act independently. That's why it is imperative that committee members, as well as staff, be insulated from political pressure or retaliation," said Hulshof.
The legislation would also create enhanced transparency for gift and travel rules.
Members would be required to seek pre-approval for privately funded trips in connection with official business. Under the legislation, the Ethics Committee would verify that the complete cost and itinerary of a trip was provided beforehand and that it was not planned, arranged or organized by a lobbyist or foreign agent.
Members and lobbyists would also be required to provide a passenger list if a corporate jet was used for transportation.
The bill would mandate all travel records for privately funded, officially connected travel be filed within ten days of completion of the trip. The information would then be placed in a database for public access.
Cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, Walter Jones, R-N.C., Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Phil English, R-Pa., John B. Shadegg, R-Ariz., Curt Weldon, R-Pa., Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., Mark Udall, D-Colo., Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and Chris Shays, R-Conn.