December 02, 2009

CREW Asks Ethics Committee to Investigate Senators’ Continued Use of “Secret Holds” Despite Ban

US CapitolWashington, D.C. – Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) today asked the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate senators’ failure to abide by a provision in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA), enacted in September 2007, prohibiting the use of “secret holds.” CREW urged the committee to discipline senators who have violated the ban and issue guidance on this matter for senators’ future conduct.

Section 512 of HLOGA requires senators to reveal when they are “intending to object to a proceeding” — a parliamentary maneuver more commonly known as a “hold,” which is frequently used to stall or stop legislation or nominations. HLOGA did not, however, include any mechanism to enforce the ban and senators have continued to use secret holds.

To determine whether senators have complied with the ban, CREW conducted a day-by-day review of the Senate Calendar of Business dating from the law’s passage in 2007 through today. Over this two-year period, CREW only found two bills that had “a notice of intent to object” placed in the calendar. For the same period, however, CREW discovered several bills and nominations that appeared to have had secret holds placed on them, but for which no corresponding objections were placed in the calendar and no senator publicly announced a hold.

A veterans health care bill and the confirmation of Hilda Solis as President Obama’s labor secretary were among the numerous bills and nominations that have been delayed by use of secret holds. In addition, two of President Obama’s science-related nominees’ confirmations allegedly were held by a senator seeking leverage against the administration’s Cuba policy.

In its letter, CREW asked the ethics committee to consider whether senators’ failure to comply with a ban adopted just two years ago -- ironically as part of an ethics overhaul -- is misconduct that reflects upon the Senate. CREW also asked the committee to provide guidance on how the provision should influence senators’ conduct in the future.

“Senators claimed HLOGA would change the way business is conducted in Washington,” said CREW executive director Melanie Sloan. “But the so-called ban on secret holds was nothing more than an empty promise. An empty promise by politicians . . . not much change in that, more like same-old, same-old.” Sloan continued, “If the ban is really as meaningless as it seems, the ethics committee should admit it and the Senate should repeal it. As shocking a notion as it may be, Americans have a right to expect senators -- just like regular folks -- will follow the rules.”

Click here to read CREW’s letter to the Senate ethics committee.







Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a non-profit legal watchdog group dedicated to holding public officials accountable for their actions. For more information, please visit or contact Jordan Libowitz at 202.408.5565 or

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