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The no-warning, no-debate, closed-door vote to gut independent oversight of the House

(the American people deserve better than this)

Yesterday, with no warning and no debate, House Republicans voted (behind closed doors) to essentially eliminate independent oversight of possible ethics violations by House members and “protect” lawmakers “against any disclosures to the public or other government entities.” *

The full House is scheduled to vote today (Tuesday, January 3, 2017) on the rules, which would last for two years (until the next congressional elections).**

The American people deserve better than this.

Under the proposed new rules, amongst other things:

  • The Office of Congressional Ethics would be renamed the “Office of Congressional Complaint Review” (OCCR) and all of its investigations would be overseen by the House Ethics Committee itself (made up of lawmakers who answer to their own party).**

  • The OCCR would not be able to employ a spokesperson, investigate anonymous tips, or refer criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors without the express consent of the Ethics Committee, which would have the power to summarily stop any OCE investigation at any time.*

  • The OCCR would be barred from making any public statements about any matters or hiring any communications staff.***

On behalf of Lawyers for Good Government, and the individuals whose names and comments are shared below, we strongly object to this move to reduce governmental accountability & transparency. We ask House members to instead choose to act in the best interests of the American people.

Traci Feit Love
Founder, Lawyers for Good Government

Lawyers for Good Government is a non-profit organization formed in November 2016 to harness the power of more than 120,000 attorneys and supporters who joined together in the wake of the presidential election to fight for equality, justice, human rights, and a government that works for the American people.

*https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/01/02/house-republicans-vote-to-rein-in-independent-ethics-office/

**http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/02/us/politics/with-no-warning-house-republicans-vote-to-hobble-independent-ethics-office.html

***http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/02/politics/office-of-congressional-ethics-oversight-of-ethics-committee-amendment/

Below are just some of the comments shared by members of Lawyers for Good Government (L4GG) and other individuals in response to this statement, in the few hours available to the public in between Monday’s surprise vote and the full vote taking place today (Tuesday). Please note that each of these comments represent the views of the individual author only.

Emily Livingston:

I was outraged when I read that a proposal was passed in a closed-door caucus meeting tonight to weaken and remove independence the Office of Congressional Ethics.

I understand that, because this proposal was passed without warning, it will be up for vote as part of the House Rules tomorrow.

I understand that the votes on the closed door caucus meetings are not typically made public. Are you willing to disclose your vote on this Proposal?

I am extremely concerned that the House of Representatives would dare to even consider voting to remove independent oversight of themselves. A vote in favor of this rule would displease both Democratic voters (who are deeply concerned over the conflicts of interest in the incoming Executive branch) and Republicans voters (who have voted against establishment politics). All voters are tired of politicians being beholden to lobbyists and special interest groups.

I urge you tomorrow to vote against a Rule to weaken and remove independence of the OCE. I am very outspoken and will hold you accountable for your vote.

Miriah Sorenson Elliot, attorney, Utah:

This move by House Republicans is deeply troubling both given the divisiveness in our country and the real concern about transparency in the upcoming administration.

Betsy Brazy, attorney, California:

I am an attorney admitted in California, helping parents assert their due process rights on their children's education. I am appalled by this sneak attack on ethical oversight in the name of "due process." Due process includes ample notice to all parties.

Debbie Fliegelman:

Given the uproar over Hillary Clinton's alleged conflicts of interest during the campaign, and the nation's genuine concern over Trump's actual conflicts, it is absolutely shocking to me that the Republican Party would choose this moment to weaken the oversight capabilities of the Independent Ethics Office. I am outraged and strongly condemn this elimination of ethical oversight at the time when it is most needed.

Lynn Humphreys, attorney, California:

I am appalled by this clandestine move to remove independent ethics oversight of our Congressional representatives. The timing of this action alone is indicative of the GOP's motives. This is unacceptable. Please act accordingly to represent the interests of all Americans and the American ideal of ethics and justice.

Kristen Kreple, attorney, Wisconsin:

As a former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer, I'm appalled that the its House counterpart would do away with the one good thing that came out of the Abramoff scandal.

Theresa Ardal Connor, attorney, Washington:

I object to these efforts by members of Congress to curtail the power of an independent ethics office.

Danielle White, attorney, California:

We see through you House Republicans. At a time when YOUR constituents have the least amount of faith in you than ever in the history of this Country, you do this. You take away our ability to see what type of ethics violations you are committing. And many of you are lawyers just like us. How shameful that you've learned nothing except dishonesty and opaqueness. Welcome to the new world order. I am disgusted and wholeheartedly object to these efforts by members of Congress to curtail the power of an independent ethics office.

Eric Robbins, attorney, Nevada, Colorado, and the District of Columbia:

I strongly feel that the House of Representatives needs independent ethics oversight to ensure that ethics rules are enforced and that such enforcement is equitable. Only an independent body can ensure that enforcement of ethics rules does not depend on political party or political power. Therefore, I am strongly opposed to this attempt to place the Office of Congressional Ethics under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee and to reduce its power. I understand the concerns of some House members about due process being given to members and their staff. However, these concerns should be addressed in ways that do not compromise the independence of investigations, such as by giving persons under investigation the right to counsel. I urge members of the House from both parties to stand up for ethical behavior in Congress and vote "no" on the proposed rules change.

Amy Jo Cooper, attorney, California:

I am appalled, but not surprised, by this move to remove the independent ethics oversight of our Congressional representatives.

Julie Hancock, attorney, Washington:

It is incredible that the House Republicans would attempt to reduce the independent oversight into ethics investigations, when the country as a whole is rejecting establishment politics, so much so that approximately 50% of this country did not participate in this past election. As the new term begins, a majority of the House Republicans, in a closed-door meeting, determine that less oversight and accountability is needed in the new administration. This is the opposite of what is needed. The entire federal government, and especially Congress, needs to find a way to make the People trust it again. This is not the way to accomplish that.

I implore the House to reject these changes and keep the ethical oversight committee an independent body and uphold the highest levels of integrity and accountability to ensure the American people, whom you all work for, can trust their representatives.

Wendy Smith, attorney, California:

I am appalled at what can only be seen as an effort to avoid transparency in government.

Mickey Donovan-Kaloust, attorney, California:

I am horrified to see that the OCE is being gutted at just the moment when America needs it most.

Diana Honig, attorney, California:

The GOP's clandestine meeting to eliminate the only independent ethics oversight is an outrageous abuse of power, which would result in the elimination of Congressional transparency and accountability at a time when we most need it.

Stacey Aldstadt, attorney, California and Texas:

It is clear to me, at least, that the Republican House members who are attempting to eliminate an independent mechanism for addressing ethics violations by members of Congress did so in great secrecy to avoid the public outcry that such a move deserves.

Tolu Levi Odukoya, attorney, New York:

The move to remove the independent ethics oversight committee is appalling. This would be condemned if the congress in a developing country did it. Removing the ethics committee to protect your own pockets and friends is an insult to American values of justice and equality.

Miriam Sahouani, attorney, Minnesota

I am appalled and deeply concerned by the recent House vote to kill the Office of Congressional Ethics. Aside from the obvious concerns of increased and unchecked unethical behavior this congressional action may cause, such a move is incongruous with the goals of open, ethical government and will only exacerbate the existing problems of political disaffection and governmental distrust.

Monica Baumann, attorney, California:

Transparency is a key to government legitimacy. The American people deserve a transparent debate for legislation of this nature.

Jill Kopeikin, attorney, California:

The move by the GOP House Republicans to assume control of the responsibility of policing ethics over its own body is inconsistent with the principles of ethics and sound governance. It undermines the integrity of the House and its actions.

The only way to repair the fragile relationship between the American people and our government is to increase transparency and safeguards against abuses of power and corruption, not to impose barriers behind which such malfeasance may hide.

I stand with my fellow Americans in strongly opposing this action.

Meredith McBride, law student:

More appalling than suggestions to greatly reduce the power of the Ethics Oversight Committee is the lack of justification or suggested alternatives. The move doesn't seek to improve oversight, it seeks to remove independent oversight and transparency.

Lissette Gomez, attorney, California:

I am appalled by this move to remove the independent ethics oversight of our Congressional representatives.

Marcy Mitchell, attorney, Washington:

I have worked for a federal agency for 23 years. We, as federal employees, are constantly reminded of the importance of acting ethically in our role as public servants. I am appalled and outraged by the move by the House of Representatives to eliminate independent oversight of the House of Representatives. I urge you to reconsider and rescind this action.

Harriet Strasberg, attorney, Washington:

The Republican House members who voted for this measure did so in secrecy with no notice to the public. To eliminate an independent committee which exists for the purpose of addressing ethics violations is unjustified and will lead to acceptance of more corruption at a time when additional scrutiny of ethical conflicts is more important than ever.

Michele Marcoux Lodin, attorney, California:

As an attorney admitted to practice in the State of California, I am appalled that many fellow lawyers elected to hold office would secretly vote to eliminate independent ethical oversight of themselves.

After a clearly divisive election, and with accusations of fascism directed at the incoming administration, this is the worst action possible to bring stability to, and build faith in, our system of government. This action is unacceptable, and I urge members of the House to vote "no" on this proposal.

Mary Ellen Alden, attorney, Minnesota:

I am appalled by the House Republican's action to reduce the power of the Ethics Oversight Committee. This move was undertaken in secrecy, and is a blatant attempt to shield Republican members from accountability for unethical behavior.

Ugochi Anaebere-Nicholson, attorney, California:

Just unbelievable what our Congress has become. Ethics are the cornerstone of our society and should be upheld by our legislators, many of whom are themselves, attorneys.

Shona Armstrong, attorney, California:

The nation is counting on principled Republicans to stand up for American values and the integrity of our government despite partisan policy differences. I urge lawmakers to reject proposals to weaken independent ethics oversight. Instead, I urge them to preserve institutions that bolster citizens' faith in the system of government.

Mo Long, attorney, Illinois:

Our elected officials should be held to the highest ethical standards, period. This move by the House GOP seems to be a move against transparency and will breed continued distrust between the voting public and their representatives. Further, this appears to be an intentional and malicious sleight of hand by some seeking to avoid accountability which one can assume means something nefarious and possibly illegal has/is/will be implemented by those leading this charge.

Stephanie Schroeder, attorney, California:

Transparency regarding the ethics of our lawmakers is the cornerstone of our democracy. It is alarming to me that our lawmakers voted behind closed doors to strip away independent oversight over ethics investigations. Far from draining the swamp, they just made it murkier. This does not bode well for the future of our democracy.

Michele Keegan, attorney, Maryland and Washington D.C.:

The Office of Congressional Ethics was created in the wake of a corruption scandal during the Bush administration. It is important to have an independent watchdog to investigate potential misdealings in Congress. This move under the cover of night (essentially) by Republicans raises serious concerns and enhances fears that Republicans will misuse their power. There is no legitimate reason to put the Office under the control of a House Committee (fox watching the hen house) and to strip the Office of its powers to communicate with law enforcement, communicate with the public, and accept anonymous tips. This sets a very worrisome tone. I applaud the 74 House Republicans who voted against this.

Kanan Sheth Kangro, attorney, New York:

I strongly oppose the attempt to remove or alter the ethics oversight committee.

Katherine Ferar, attorney, California:

It appears to me that the Republican majority in the House is using its power to eliminate the only existing external oversight and control on internal corruption in the House of Representatives. This move will draw yet another veil over the actions of an increasingly secretive and self serving arm of government which is supposed to be serving the people. As an attorney, I am appalled at the lack of integrity and irresponsibility of Congressmen who take the salaries and benefits of their positions and do not do their jobs, but, instead, obfuscate and obstruct the workings of good government. And as a citizen, I am sickened to see so many representatives placing their own desires for power and prestige above the welfare of the people they profess to serve.

Manny Jacobowitz, attorney, Washington:

The House Republican Conference, by trying to remove independent ethics oversight at the very outset of a new Congress, signals clearly that its members intend to act unethically. The statement by Conference representatives that there have been unsubstantiated accusations by the independent, bipartisan Ethics Office, misses the point: investigations necessarily begin with an "accusation" by someone, which may then be confirmed or rejected. Transparency in that process is a good thing. It is also beyond hypocritical, coming from a crew that, to name just one example among many, incessantly accused Secretary Clinton of vague, undefined wrongdoing despite repeated findings by every investigating body that the accusations had no basis.

Jennifer Wong, attorney, New York and Illinois:

I am horrified that the republican House of Representatives would secretly vote to remove oversight from themselves and simultaneously vote to punish dissent from other representatives currently in the minority. These proceedings are undemocratic attempts to silence opposition, limit transparency and put lawmakers in the majority party above the law. The fact that you are pushing this through in secret without warning means you know it is wrong. Stop betraying the people who voted for you and start governing.

Peter Campia, attorney, Massachusetts:

I am appalled by the House Republicans secret decision to gut the Independent Ethics Oversight Committee. Your actions show all Americans that we need such a committee .

Deborah Alexander, attorney, California:

The gutting of the independence of a committee whose sole purpose was to provide objective oversight of congress demonstrates the very need its independence. One might one why are you so afraid of being held accountable? The fact that this vote took place over a holiday weekend in secret demonstrates that the independence of this committee is still very much needed. Shame on you all - and shame on the American people if they do not remove those up for re-election from office in 2 years.

Joseph Hollinger, attorney, California:

It is no secret that public confidence in our Congress is low by any definition of that measure. In light of this reality, it is appalling that Congress, would move (as they did today) to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics, a body created to ensure that members of congress act ethically and in the public interest. That this happened, in secret and without public comment is shocking and deeply disruptive to our democracy and our ideals as Americans. Congress should reconsider this action, and work towards restoring public faith that our government acts transparently and in the public good.

Char Sachson, attorney, California:

Ethical oversight is critical to fair and transparent government. This is shameful. It must be highlighted by mainstream media so there is awareness of what is happening. Trump promised to drain the swamp, but he just backed up the alligator truck to capitol hill.

Zathrina Perez, attorney, California:

I was shocked to learn that, behind closed doors and without any advance notice or debate, certain members of the House of Representatives voted to weaken the very independent ethics office that investigates House lawmakers and staff accused of misconduct. Such clandestine decision-making by House lawmakers serves no other purpose than to self-interestedly shield their conduct from the scrutiny and transparency to which the public is entitled. I wholeheartedly object to such machinations and urge the full House of Representatives to vote "no" on this proposal.

Kimberly Cornell Epstein, attorney, California:

I am alarmed that lawmakers voted behind closed doors to strip away independent oversight over ethics in government - the very committee that rooted out and later resulted in jailed violators from both major parties. The future of our democracy requires greater ethical vigilance. By what possible good reason could such a clandestine move be motivated?

Jo Hoenninger, attorney, California:

As an American citizen and public servant with over 15 years in the legal profession (admitted to practice in California in 1999), I am seriously concerned by the recent secret vote of Republican House Congressional Members to undermine the independent Office of Congressional Ethics by placing it under the "oversight" of the House Ethics Committee. After an election with unprecedented voting irregularities and Russian interference, now more than at any other time in our Nation's history the American people need to know that any alleged ethical violations by Members of Congress will be investigated by a non-partisan ethical body NOT under partisan political influence. Please remember your oath to "defend against all enemies foreign and domestic" and vote against allowing this very dangerous move. Instead please work to restore our faith in American system of government. Thank you.

Vanessa Merton, attorney, New York:

I am an attorney admitted to the practice of law in the State of New York for more than 40 years. It is hard to recall as blatant an example of self-serving legislative action calculated to enable corruption. How shameful, how unprofessional, how dishonorable to deliberately make it easier for members of Congress to lie, cheat, and steal. No wonder you acted so sneakily.

Rachel Graves, attorney, New York and Colorado:

I am appalled that House Republicans made a clandestine move to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics at a moment when our nation clearly needs more, not less, ethical oversight. Why would members of Congress feel the need to strip the office of its power and independence unless they wish to act unethically? I strongly urge the whole House to oppose this move in its vote Tuesday.

Peri Pakroo:

I am a legal, business and health care writer with a Juris Doctor degree, and deeply concerned to learn that a critical Congressional oversight office is being targeted with no public notice or input. With the enormous potential—some say certainty—of conflicts of interest in Trump's imminent presidency, it is of utmost importance there be effective systems in place to monitor and enforce ethics violations. To weaken or kill the Office of Congressional Ethics shows such a level of disregard of fairness and ethics in government that one can only view this move with the utmost cynicism.

Millicent Hoffman, attorney, Illinois:

I am deeply disappointed by this action by Congress and urge its reversal. Attorneys, such as myself, are subject to oversight by an ethics body. Our congressional representatives merit the same commitment to integrity.

Paulette Feeney, high school teacher of civics and economics:

As a high school teacher of Civics and Economics, I will struggle to explain the action to remove the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics. I try to teach my students that government is working in the best interests of the people. I am disappointed to say that even high school students will see through this maneuver. They are, at their young ages, already quite cynical and wonder why they should bother to participate. Removing the power of the OCE will certainly justify their attitudes. Help me teach that Congress can and will continue to ensure ethical behavior. Please do not vote on this proposal as it stands.

Laura Heiman, attorney, New York and California:

I have practiced law in New York and California for 23 years. I am disgusted by this action by House Republicans. Given the state of our currently fragile democracy we need an independent ethics committee more than ever.

Nikki Cowger, attorney, California:

The attempts to remove an independent committee on ethics is a danger to everyone no matter your political affiliation.

This election cycle has shown a rising populist sentiment and distrust of authority sweeping the nation, the likes of which we have not seen in hundreds of years. The EOC is an embodiment of a founding principle of our nation that power should be checked and subject to scrutiny. This is needed now as much as it has always been.

Do not prove disenfranchisement of the general public to be true or sidestep your constitutional oaths as representatives of the people. Do not step into the shadows to be feared and disliked for your commitment to country. Stand in the light and continue to serve our strong nation through ethical performance of your duties.

Veronica Walther, attorney, Minnesota:

I am appalled -but not shocked- by this vote to eliminate the independent oversight committee. I strongly oppose this move. The American people deserve transparency and we need it now more than ever.

Deborah Hadwen, attorney, Maryland, California and the District of Columbia:

The move to eliminate the the independent Office of Congressional Ethics that was initiated on the Monday holiday, surreptitiously or with little public notice or opportunity for review, demonstrates the dire need for this office. This is a move that will only further deteriorate the American public's faith in its leadership and signal to the world that the U.S. has given up hope of holding our politicians to high ethical standards during the next four years.

Leah Castella, attorney, California:

For the last eight years, a substantial part of my practice has involved advising municipalities on open government and ethics. I regularly conduct ethics trainings for public officials and I start every one of those trainings by explaining how critical it is for governmental agencies to maintain and nourish a relationship of trust with their constituencies because that trust is the cornerstone of good government. The decision to strip the independence from the Congressional Ethics Office betrays that trust, and is the antithesis of good government. The decision itself means that members of Congress will not be subject to independent oversight to ensure that they comply with their ethical responsibilities, which is at odds with the most basic tenets of democracy. The way the decision was made - - on a federal holiday, by secret ballot, and without meaningful public debate, is even more troubling.

Regardless of political affiliation, we should all be united by the principle that government officials are not above the law, and that their conduct should be subject to independent oversight to ensure that they are acting in the best interests of their constituents, not themselves. This action is utterly at odds with this principle, and should not be allowed to stand.

Alice Graham, attorney, California:

This move would mean you are policing yourselves, with no independent oversight. Taking this vote on a legal holiday already does not pass the smell test. You should not eliminate the independent ethics office because it would be wrong and unethical. You also should not do so because doing so would make you look wrong and unethical. In legal parlance, that's called the appearance of impropriety.

Joanna Ryan, attorney, California:

I am deeply disappointed by this vote to eliminate the independent oversight committee. The way this was handled seems to reveal the motivation. I strongly oppose this move. The American people deserve transparency, and we need it now more than ever.

Berengere Parmly, attorney, New York and D.C.:

I am an attorney admitted to practice in NY and DC, and an ethics and compliance officer for a large US-based international company. My efforts, and those of my entire profession, to strengthen systems of demonstrably ethical business conduct and avoid even the appearance of improper behavior, are gutted by this change. Trust and independence are keystones of our work. As the laws remain tight on the private sector, and companies continue to hold themselves to the highest ethical standards, we are forced to conclude one of two things. Either our profession no longer has the support of the US House of Representatives. Or the House has accepted the shame and hypocrisy of holding every citizen and company in this country to ethical standards it refuses to enforce on itself. Surely, this decision must be reconsidered.

Lindsay Roseler, attorney, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and District of Columbia:

I write this to go on record and state that I am shocked and dismayed that, without notice or debate, members of the House of Representatives voted to strip the Office of Congressional Ethics of its oversight powers. This is shameful and seeks only to rid House members of the need for transparency and accountability.

Sara Mooney HInkley, attorney, Texas:

I am extremely alarmed at the recent move by Congressional Republicans to remove the independent oversight of the Office of Congressional Ethics.

It is well established that a good ethics & compliance program is more than a set of rules; it’s a culture where corruption is not tolerated. It provides training, monitoring, and confidential reporting. By eviscerating the Office of Congressional Ethics, and removing the ability to confidentially report ethics violations, the House is sending a clear message to the American people that the 115th U.S. Congress is embracing a culture of corruption. I ask that the House of Representatives embrace an ethical culture by removing this rules amendment, or by voting against the rules package set to come before them on Tuesday.

Sources: http://corporatelaw.jdsupra.com/post/5-characteristics-of-an-effective-corporate-compliance-program

JR Lentini, attorney, Connecticut and Maryland

Congressional corruption is a bipartisan problem, and the public needs a strong, independent investigator to combat it. Especially at a time when public confidence in Congress is at a historic low point, we need to know that our representatives are looking out for us, and not just for themselves. This move is nothing less than a breach of faith with the American people.

Deborah Hensler, Ph.D., Stanford Law Professor:

I am appalled that after an election campaign that highlighted perceived ethical transgressions by the candidates, Republicans' first legislative move of the year is to propose to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. That the House Conference acted after dark and in the last hours of the old session apparently in the hope that their move would escape public notice and comment speaks volumes about their lack of integrity.

Additional L4GG members objecting to elimination of independent ethics oversight in the House:

Carla Varriale, attorney, New York

Laura LaVelle, attorney, New York and Connecticut

Nancy Kuemin, attorney, Michigan

Deidre Keller, attorney, Georgia

Eliana Maruri, attorney, Texas

Barbara Hoffman Patterson, retired attorney, Wisconsin

Trinidad Madrigal, attorney, California

Josh Thayer, attorney, California,

Dan Silver, attorney, Illinois

Buddy Luce, attorney, Texas

Melissa Petrofsky, attorney, California

R. Grace Rodriguez, attorney, California

Rachel Effron Sharma, attorney, Georgia

Marianna Kosharovsky, attorney, New York and Colorado

Deirdre Goldfarb, attorney, California

Sara Jasper Epstein, attorney, California

Christina O’Tousa, law student

Shari Ckng, attorney, Pennsylvania

To add your name and/or statement of support, please fill out the form below.

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