This post appeared as a letter to the editor in the Staunton News Leader on January 18, 2017.
Our Rep. Bob Goodlatte is continuing to talk in his Orwellian doublespeak. He says his failed amendment to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics would have “strengthened” it “by maintaining its primary area of focus – accepting and reviewing complaints.” But he only wanted to strengthen the “rights” of the accused by eliminating the anonymity of complainants and making investigations “private.” That wouldn’t “maintain” the OCE’s focus, which requires the protection of whistleblowers and the transparency of investigations.
Goodlatte evokes “basic tenets of American Law,” but he also states: “The men and women elected to represent the American people should be held to the highest standards.” For elected officials to be held to those highest standards, the OCE’s procedures cannot be “basic.” In civil courts “the accused have the right to confront their accuser,” but the OCE holds Congress to a higher standard, one he contradictorily endorses. As he states, “literally anyone from anywhere in the world can send” a complaint. Whether complaints have “a basis in fact” is the job of the OCE to determine. Preventing the office from receiving complaints because they could “potentially disparage the reputation of a Member” undermines its purpose.
Goodlatte’s amendment would have also moved the OCE under the Committee on Ethics. Goodlatte says this change is necessary because “all parts of the federal government … should be subject to proper oversight.” But he doesn’t show that it’s not already properly supervised. The OCE is a “nonpartisan, independent office … founded partially to add an additional layer of review over Members and staff of the House of Representatives.” The Committee on Ethics is partisan. It’s controlled by the majority party. How would have Goodlatte’s amendment “strengthened” the OCE’s non-partisan independence by making it subject to partisan control?
It’s not surprising his “amendment was supported by a majority of the House Republican Conference.” That and his contradictory defense demonstrates the imperative of keeping the OCE independent and nonpartisan—especially since Goodlatte, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, wants to place the “needs” of House members above the “highest standards” they’re elected to uphold.
Chris Gavaler, Lexington, VA