Watchdog: House ethics enforcement patchy

Oct. 25, 2010 at 4:07 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives has an uneven record when it comes to monitoring members for alleged ethical lapses, a watchdog group says.

While Reps. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., will have to defend themselves against ethics charges -- Rangel for allegedly failing to disclose income and Waters for ties her husband has to a bank that had business before Congress -- other congressmen with arguably similar shortcomings have not been brought before the House ethics committee, CBS reported Monday.

"The fact is the House ethics committee is renowned for not doing its job," Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told the network. "It is the most toothless committee in Congress. It never goes after anybody. It really exists just to give members a pass."

CBS cites Reps. Sam Graves, R-Mo., and John Carter, R-Texas, as examples of the lack of consistency in ethics enforcement. On March 4, 2009, Graves introduced Brooks Hurst as a witness at a hearing promoting renewable energy interests without mentioning his wife and Hurst had invested money in the same Missouri fuel plants. Late last year, Carter acknowledged he had not reported nearly $300,000 in profits from selling Exxon stock. Neither Graves nor Carter faces ethics charges.

CBS notes in 2007 Congress created an independent Office of Congressional Ethics, tasked with investigating cases and referring them to the ethics committee. The track record so far shows the ethics panel decided against bringing charges in 11 of the 12 cases referred to it by the independent office.

"The inside Ethics Committee has made it abundantly clear that it hates the Office of Congressional Ethics, suggesting that the office is out-of-touch and overly-aggressive and finding problems where none exist," Sloan said.

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