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Ethics Panel Staff: Reform Bill 'a Bad Idea'

With the House theoretically set to vote later today on an ethics reform proposal, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct's top Republican, Rep. Doc Hastings (Wash.), has informed his fellow members that the panel's staff has "serious concerns" about the bill.

The reform bill would create a new Office of Congressional Ethics, run by a bipartisan board of six non-members, to screen allegations and potential complaints against lawmakers. Republicans are mostly opposed to the bill, which has been delayed twice already, and in a "Dear Colleague" letter and an attached internal committee memo, both of which were obtained by Capitol Briefing, Hastings wants the House to know that committee aides don't like it either.

"I think the proposal is a bad idea on a number of levels," wrote Bill O'Reilly, the ethics committee's staff director and chief counsel, in an e-mail to his fellow staff.

In an accompanying memo, written in November in response to a draft version of the ethics reform bill, panel senior counsel Kenneth Kellner raised several potential areas of concern, including worries that the new ethics office could interview witnesses who might then be interviewed again by the ethics committee; that the ethics office would share some of its findings with the subject of an investigation at too early a stage; and that the proposal might put "artificial pressure" on the ethics committee to do a probe too quickly.

Of course, it's not completely surprising that the ethics committee might be resistant to a reform bill that's based on the idea that the committee is fundamentally incapable of doing its job without outside help. But the views of the panel's staff are still interesting and worth a look, mainly because the committee's aides are nonpartisan and generally well-regarded on both sides of the aisle. Will Hastings' letter and the staff memo have any effect on tonight's vote? We'll know soon.

By Ben Pershing  |  March 11, 2008; 5:11 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules  
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