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December 12, 2012

CREW Calls for Prompt Action on the OCE and FEC

By Jeremy Miller

John BoehnerToday, CREW participated in a press conference on Capitol Hill urging House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to appoint new directors to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), and President Barack Obama to appoint new commissioners to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The OCE plays a critical role in enforcing ethics in the House of Representatives, while the FEC administers and enforces our nation’s campaign finance laws. Without immediate action by House leadership and the president, the OCE will be unable to function, and the FEC will continue to be the most dysfunctional agency in Washington.

For four years the OCE – a semi-independent investigative agency supplementing the work of the do-nothing House Ethics Committee – has played a critical role in reviewing potential ethics violations by members of the House and their staff for consideration by the House Ethics Committee. The terms of four members of the OCE’s board will expire at the end of 2012, at which point the OCE will not be able to function without new appointments.

Only Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi can appoint new members to the board for the 113th Congress, and while both have indicated their willingness to do so, time is running out. With that in mind, CREW joined with nine other good governance groups to publicly call for Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi to move quickly to appoint new OCE board members with the same qualifications and commitment as those of the current board.

“Pre-election polls showed Americans view ethical government as a top priority. Sadly, Congress doesn’t seem to share this concern. It will require significant public pressure to ensure both that the OCE is reauthorized and new, well-qualified individuals are appointed to OCE’s board,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan in a statement to the press. “While both Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi have indicated their continued support for the OCE, neither has yet named new board members.”

The important role the OCE plays cannot be overstated. While both the House and Senate ethics committees routinely turn a blind eye to the misconduct of members of Congress, the OCE has aggressively embraced the common sense notion that members of the House should adhere to federal law and House ethics rules. For that reason, it’s no surprise that members have attempted to shut down or significantly weaken the office. The House leadership should promptly demonstrate their commitment to holding members to the highest ethical standards by pledging to support the office in its current form in the new Congress.

We also ask President Barack Obama to finally address the utter mess at the FEC. As followers of CREW’s work undoubtedly know, the terms of five of the six commissioners expired long ago, yet the president has yet to offer up a single name for appointment to the commission. To make matters worse, the current commission is excessively partisan and political and deadlocks on virtually every issue, leaving the campaign finance laws unenforced. In a post Citizens United world, the health of our democracy depends on reforming the FEC. That can only begin with President Obama tapping new appointees committed to strong and independent enforcement. The American people need a robust and functional enforcement agency now more than ever.

Joining CREW on Capitol Hill today were Americans for Campaign Reform, Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, Judicial Watch, League of Women Voters, National Legal and Policy Center, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation, and U.S. PIRG.

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