Congressional Accountability Project
1611 Connecticut Ave. NW Suite 3A
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 296-2787
fax (202) 833-2406
 

November 21, 1997
 

The Honorable Bob Smith
Chairman
Select Committee on Ethics
U. S. Senate
Hart Senate Office Building, Room 220
Washington, DC 20510-6425

RE: Request for Public Hearing Regarding Changes in Senate Ethics Process

Dear Chairman Smith:

We are writing to request a public hearing on proposed amendments to Senate Resolution 338, which sets forth the procedures for the Senate's internal disciplinary process.

The Congressional Accountability Project has obtained a memorandum prepared by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics ("Ethics Committee"), dated October 29, 1997, and a draft Senate Resolution, proposing changes to the Senate ethics process. Many of these proposed changes are based on an old Senate Ethics Study Commission report issued in March, 1994.

The Senate ethics process is central to the integrity of the U. S. Senate and the legislative branch. Any tinkering with the Senate ethics process should be conducted in full view of the public, with hearings and a transparent legislative process. Regrettably, you chose to circulate your memorandum and draft Senate Resolution solely to Senate "Members or Chiefs of Staff." You did not place these materials on the Internet so citizens might review them. Your materials do not indicate any plans for public hearings.

At a public hearing, the Congressional Accountability Project would like to testify about a grave omission in your discussion draft. Your draft does nothing to strengthen the independence of the investigative capacity within the Ethics Committee.

During the last several years, the public has seen a growing body of evidence suggesting investigative lassitude and failure in the Ethics Committee. These cases include:

Following are two examples disclosed within the last two months: Citizens may wonder whether it is the standard operating procedure of the Ethics Committee to quash investigations for no other reason than that the Chairman wishes to do so, irrespective of the evidence. We believe that the Senate Ethics Committee -- both current and former Members and staff -- have a lot of explaining to do regarding the cases mentioned above. The investigative competence of the Ethics Committee ought to receive a full and thorough public hearing.

Given this recent history, you ought to explain at a public hearing why your proposal does not include measures to strengthen the investigative capacity of the Senate ethics process.

Without public hearings, and provisions to remedy the appearance of investigative sloth and collapse within the Senate ethics process, your draft Senate Resolution falls short of its professed goal - to "enhance public confidence" in the ethics process.

Sincerely,
 

Gary Ruskin
Director


Footnotes

1. Phil Kuntz, "White House Operators? A Phone-Call Inquiry Into Clinton, Gore May Prove Murky, Complex." The Wall Street Journal, September 24, 1997.

2. Mary Jacoby, "Investigators Cast Doubt on D'Amato's Tale of Big Payday." The New York Observer, October 27, 1997.