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Reply-To: Herman Ohme
Sender: Is there a child sex abuse witchhunt?
From: Herman Ohme
Subject: Corrupt Politicians Protections Law
A bi-partisan group of House lawmakers is trying to
stifle the internal policing of corruption,
influence-peddling, and abuse of power in the U. S.
House of Representatives.
For Immediate Release: For More Information Contact:
Thursday, May 29, 1997 Gary Ruskin (202) 296-2787
House Plans "Corrupt Politicians Protection Act"
To Shield Members From Ethics Investigations
The Congressional Accountability Project criticized as "The
Corrupt Politicians Protection Act of 1997" a secret House plan
to curtail the internal policing of corruption, abuse of power,
and influence-peddling in the U. S. House of Representatives.
The plan is being prepared by the House Ethics Reform Task Force,
a bi-partisan group of lawmakers chaired by Reps. Bob Livingston
(R-LA) and Ben Cardin (D-MD).
The plan, according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call,
would erect new barriers to prevent Americans from filing ethics
complaints against House members. These complaints from non-House
members are crucial to the enforcement of House Rules that
protect the public against corruption and wrongdoing in the House
Current rules already make it difficult for citizens to file
ethics complaints in the House of Representatives. Without
complaints from outsiders, it is unlikely that many ethics
proceedings -- particularly those against powerful House members
-- would ever be undertaken by the House Ethics Committee.
"Republican and Democratic career politicians want to shield
themselves from Ethics Committee investigations," said Gary
Ruskin, Director of the Congressional Accountability Project.
"That's why they want to pass the Corrupt Politicians Protection
Act -- to take the House's internal corruption cops off the
Under House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct Rule
14, persons who are not members of the House of Representatives
may file an ethics complaint only with a letter of transmittal
from a House member or three letters of refusal from such
According to Roll Call, the Task Force is planning to
prohibit the filing of complaints by three letters of refusal.
This would likely prevent the initiation of some ethics
investigations, particularly against powerful House members,
because House members are usually unwilling to directly challenge
the propriety of a powerful member by providing a letter of
transmittal. Complaints against House Transportation Committee
Chairman Bud Shuster (R-PA) and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay
(R-TX) were filed last year by the Congressional Accountability
Project with three letters of refusal.
According to Roll Call, the Task Force is planning to
"eliminat[e] news accounts as the grounds for outside complaints"
-- even though many recent ethics cases were initially based on
news accounts. Those cases include: former Speaker Jim Wright
(D-TX), former Senator Bob Packwood (R-OR), House Speaker Newt
Gingrich (R-GA), former Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins (D-MI), House
Transportation Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, and House Majority
Whip Tom DeLay.
The members of the House Ethics Reform Task Force include
Reps. Mike Castle (R-DE), Martin Frost (D-TX), Porter Goss (R-FL),
Joe Moakley (D-MA), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Gerald Solomon (R-NY),
Louis Stokes (D-OH), and Bill Thomas (R-CA). House Ethics
Committee Chairman Jim Hansen (R-UT) and Ranking Member Howard
Berman (D-CA) are ex officio Task Force members.
On February 12, House Republican and Democratic leadership
announced a moratorium on ethics investigations and complaints in
the House. That moratorium -- a "police holiday" for House
members -- is currently shielding Reps. Shuster, DeLay, and Jerry
Costello (D-IL) from ethics investigations.
"It is outrageous that House members have voted themselves a
police holiday,'" Ruskin said. "House leaders should call off
the police holiday,' and stop protecting House members from
ethics investigations based on credible allegations of corruption
The following article was printed in the May 29, 1997 issue of
Roll Call, A Capitol Hill newspaper .
Reprinted with permission.
Congressional Watchdog Groups Up In Arms Over Ethics Reform Proposal
By Juliet Eilperin
Some outside groups are up in arms over a proposal
by House ethics reformers to forbid complaints
against Members based only on newspaper reports.
The ethics reform task force, appointed by House
leaders in the wake of January's contentious vote
to reprimand Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga), hasn't
yet completed its written report on changing
But several sources said the task force has agreed
on its proposal to bar outside groups from filing
complaints based on newspaper reports, while also
setting a clearer schedule for considering
allegations against Members.
Task force co-chair Benjamin Cardin (D-Md)
unveiled some of the proposals in a closed-door
meeting before the Democratic Caucus Thursday.
The provision aimed at outside groups would
eliminate the elaborate "three letters of refusal"
rule, which requires three Members to declare that
they will not provide a letter of transmittal
before the ethics committee will receive an
But by eliminating news accounts as the grounds
for outside complaints, the reform could
dramatically curtail public watchdogs' ability to
lodge charges of wrongdoing against Members.
Virtually every high-profile case against Members
in recent years -- including the charges against
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga), former House
Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas), and ex-Sen. Bob
Packwood (R-Ore) -- was initially based on
Congressional Accountability Project director Gary
Ruskin, who has filed several complaints against
Members, said the change would undermine his
group's ability to hold Members accountable.
"The net effect will be a de facto non-enforcement
of House ethics rules, which will lead to a
climate of increased corruption, influence
peddling, and abuse of power," Ruskin warned.
Common Cause legislative director Meredith McGehee
said the proposal is "just going in the absolute
"This group is going to have to be careful because
they are quickly going from what was supposed to
be reform to de-form in what was already a tainted
process," she added.
However, Landmark Legal Foundation president Mark
Levin called the reform a "potentially positive
"There ought to be an effort to pull evidence
together other than newspaper reports," said
Levin, whose group filed complaints against House
Minority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich) last Congress.
But, he cautioned, "as long as they're raising the
threshold and there's a serious effort to meet
that threshold, then the committee needs to
seriously examine the complaint."
Though Members were eager to file charges against
colleagues like Gingrich and Bonior last Congress,
they have been much less enthusiastic about taking
on GOP leaders like Majority Whip Tom DeLay
(Texas) and Transportation and Infrastructure
Chairman Bud Shuster (Pa). In both cases, Ruskin
was only able to submit complaints based on
accounts in Roll Call and other publications after
obtaining three letters of refusal.
"Members are loathe to file against powerful
Members," Ruskin said.
The complaints against DeLay and Shuster
technically expired at the end of last Congress,
and the current ethics committee has not yet
indicated whether it will probe the allegations.
Cardin indicated in an interview this month that
he expected the panel would follow the committee's
custom of pursuing complaints from previous years.
The current House rule on outside groups differs
from that of the Senate Ethics Committee, which
allows such organizations to file complaints
directly with the panel.
While one source suggested outside groups could
base future House ethics complaints on the
testimony of potential witnesses, like the women
who accused Packwood of sexual harassment, those
allegations arose directly from reports in the
Washington Post and the Oregonian.
It is unclear whether any Members plan to mount
opposition to the bipartisan group's reform
package. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif), who has
transmitted complaints on behalf of the
Congressional Accountability Project in the past,
questioned why the ethics committee couldn't
review the validity of press allegations once they
"That's why you bring a complaint to the ethics
committee and they make a determination," Miller
said. "Courts throw out frivolous complaints all
Miller noted that the task force was imposing a
different standard of proof on outside groups as
compared with Members, who would still be able to
use news accounts. "That should not be a bar to
filing a complaint," he said.
Cardin, who declined to comment specifically on
the task force's proposal, said Tuesday he briefed
Democrats "to give them some heads up" on the
package, which the House is scheduled to consider
before June 12, the day the moratorium on ethics
"I thought the response was very favorable,"
Cardin said of his talk.
Most Democrats expressed support for the reform
package during Thursday's meeting, according to
sources, including a provision creating a
mechanism to automatically move the ethics process
forward unless committee members objected.
This measure, sources said, would set a timeline
for stages in the ethics process. Unless a vote
was taken to halt the process, an ethics probe
would move forward to a preliminary inquiry and
the creation of an investigatory subcommittee.
This schedule would contrast sharply with the
ethics committee's actions during the 104th
Congress, when a deadlock between the two parties
prevented the panel from announcing a preliminary
inquiry into the Gingrich case for well over a
"That is unquestionably a good thing because of
the interminable delays of the ethics process in
the 104th Congress," Ruskin said of the proposal.
"The devil is in the details. Everything depends
on how the rule is written."
Cardin said he hoped the report would be completed
next week so Members would have time to review the
scope of the reform.
Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La), who co-chairs the task
force, also declined to describe the plan in
detail but said this month that it would make the
process more predictable and provide "due process"
But one final factor could complicate the
measure's package, according to Hill aides: the
attachment of an amendment altering the House gift
Several Members have raised the prospect of
revisiting the gift rule, which currently
prohibits House Members from accepting anything
with more than a "nominal value." Senators, by
contrast, can accept gifts worth less than $50.
Though no Member has crusaded publicly to overturn
the ban, many have complained in private that the
current limit is unworkable.
It is unclear whether either party's leaders would
be willing to attach a gift-rule amendment to the
ethics reform measure.
"This would be a logical vehicle because this is
an ethics issue," said a GOP aide, adding, "The
key is to avoid forcing Members to take a vote on
Cardin said he was opposed to attaching any
gift-reform measure to the ethics package.
"I don't think that's going to happen," he said,
adding that Members need time to consider any move
by the House leadership to alter gift
requirements. "I think it should be handled as a
Livingston spokesman Mark Corallo said it was
still "unclear" whether a gift rule amendment
would be attached to the reform package.
According to Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's
(D-Mo) spokesman, Erik Smith, the leadership has
no position on the issue of the gift ban at this
time, but he said it is "on the agenda" for the
Caucus in the coming weeks.
Copyright - 1996 Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.
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