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 of Representatives.
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 beat."
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 members.
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 and wrongdoing."