On today's BradCast: With so many referrals of Republican members of Congress to House ethics investigators of late, is it any wonder the GOP and Kevin McCarthy just voted to gut the critical Office of Congressional Ethics (or OCE) as part of their new rules package for taking over the majority in the 118th Congress? [Audio link to full show follows this summary.]
At the end of last year, the bipartisan House Select Committee investigating the Trump-incited insurrection on January 6, 2021, recommended Congressional ethics investigations of then-Minority Leader, now-Speaker McCarthy (R-CA); Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) for their failure to respond to lawful Congressional subpoenas. More recently, there have been calls for an ethics investigation of New York's newly seated Republican Rep. and pathological liar, George Santos.
Naturally then, as their first order of business when approving the chambers Rules Package last week, which will now be used to govern for the next two years, Republicans moved to all but kill the only investigative ethics body in the House with actual teeth, the OCE.
We're joined today for insight on all of this by longtime Government Affairs lobbyist on ethics, lobbying and campaign finance rules for good government group Public Citizen, CRAIG HOLMAN. He helps us understand the difference between the House Ethics Committee and the totally separate and independent Office of Congressional Ethics, and explains how Republicans have just implemented a "one-two punch to shut down" the latter and any real ethics investigations along with it.
"The ethics process in Congress, in both the House and the Senate, has historically been run by members of Congress themselves," Holman explains. "So we've got this permanent committee called the House Ethics Committee that is run by members of Congress who are very, very reluctant to be critical of their fellow colleagues. They operate in secret. They will do their investigations, sometimes, but we never really know what they found or what they ended up recommending because they operate in secret. The House Ethics Committee is literally designed to sweep ethics matters under the rug, so that the public doesn't know what's going on."
On the other hand, "In 2008, as part of the huge ethics and lobby reform package that we passed in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, we created an outside, independent Office of Congressional Ethics," he continues, explaining why the OCE is so critical. To be on its eight-member Board, you can't be a lobbyist or Congressional member. You must be a bona fide outsider. "It's staffed by eight board members --- four Republicans, four Democrats --- and it's done a phenomenal job at opening up the whole ethics process."
"Even though OCE doesn't have any actual enforcement authority, it does an actual investigation and then publishes the results of that investigation. And when it becomes public record, that has compelled the House Ethics Committee to actually do something." Holman observes that, since OCE's creation, actual enforcement actions by the House Ethics Committee has literally quadrupled.
Now, however, new rules adopted last week by House Republicans will force almost every Democratic member of the OCE's Board to step down, any replacements for them must be approved by at least four existing Board Members (which would now be 3 Rs and 1 D). Critically, Dems will have just 30 days find and to appoint those new members, hire staff and have it all approved by the Board. That, he explains, will be virtually impossible. "After that 30-day window, there's no staff. There's no investigators. There's no one able to do the work of OCE. It will effectively shut down OCE."
"It's a very strategic one-two punch to close down the ethics process," Holman argues. So, what does all of this mean for ethics investigations under GOP House rule over the next two years? And is there any way to either reverse the newly adopted rules or re-interpret them somehow in the GOP-majority Rules Committee? We discuss. But Holman describes the outlook as "grim" at this point.
Also on today's show...
- Virginia's Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin has killed a new Ford Motor Co. project to build electric vehicle batteries in his state. The new plant would have brought at least 2,500 new jobs to a rural area of the commonwealth which has been under development for years in hopes of attracting new industry. But the plant was to have been a partnership with a Chinese company. Youngkin, who is believed likely to run for a Presidential nod in 2024, claims the company is a secret front for the "Chinese Communist Party" and poses a threat to the security of Virginians somehow. Meanwhile the new Ford employees will be hired in a different state, and the 3,500-acre megasite in VA remains vacant after 15 years and more than $200 million in public development funding. Desi Doyen suggests that the oil industry's efforts to put the brakes on the EV boom also plays a part in this fiasco.
- Last week, Kansas' Democratic Governor Laura Kelly was sworn in for a second term in the usually "red" state. This time, however, she was joined by longtime immigration opponent, vote suppressor and GOP "voter fraud" fraudster Kris Kobach, who was sworn in as the state's new Attorney General. Kobach's long-sought political comeback --- after losing the Governor's contest to Kelly in 2018 and the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in 2020 --- comes along with a $30,000 fine from the Federal Election Commission for election law violations during his failed 2020 election when he received unlawful help from a fraudulent private border wall group called "We Build the Wall". After embarrassing the state of KS, Kobach served as Board Member and General Counsel for the group which is, itself, facing fraud charges at both the federal and state level in New York (along with Board Member Steve Bannon). Other than that, of course, and the federal court sanctions he received while serving as SoS --- including orders to attend law school classes at the time --- there's a new sheriff in town in the great state of Kansas. I'm sure it will go very well...
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