To the Editor:
The Oxford Dictionary of the English Language defines ethics as: “moral principles or code.” The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) was established in 2008 to be a non-partisan organization that looks into complaints as to ethics violations of the rules of Congress. The complaints can come from other members of Congress, from the executive branch of government, or indeed, from the public. It is the OCE’s job to investigate these complaints to determine if they have merit and then report them to the Congressional Ethics Committee.
It is then up to this bi-partisan committee of Congress to determine if any congressional rules have been violated and if any disciplinary action should be taken. The findings of the Office of Congressional Ethics are open to the public. There’s the rub. No congressman wants his constituents to be aware that he may have violated the “moral principles or code” of his job or of society as a whole.
Last Monday, Jan. 2, the Republican House of Representatives members met in private session and voted to basically gut the OCE of most of its duties and power. It was a closed meeting not open to the total members of the House of Representatives. I have several concerns with this action.
First, the exclusion of the Democratic representatives from the discussion shows that there was no intention of allowing open debate of the issue. I realize that the Republicans have the power to ram items like this through the Congress by virtue of control of both the House and the Senate, but any vote that affects the governance of the country, and thereby, the people, should be open for debate and an exchange of opinions and ideas.
Secondly, because this was a closed meeting, our congressional representatives are not required to inform the public as to how they voted. Rep. Pat McHenry, R-Gastonia, was quite willing to announce that he voted against the proposal in that he believed that any changes to the OCE should be subject to open debate.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-Cashiers, has refused to let his constituents know how he voted on this issue. He says that it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the issue because he is currently under investigation by the OCE. Notice that he has not stated that he abstained from voting, only that he will not tell the public how he stands on the issue. This implies that he did, indeed, vote.
This is the third point. Rep. Meadows is currently under investigation for paying his former chief of staff $58,125.00 for performing no duties. The OCE report stated: “There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Meadows retained an employee who did not perform duties commensurate with the compensation the employee received and certified that the compensation met applicable House standards, in violation of House rules and standards of conduct ….” As Rep. Meadows is under investigation by the OCE, the ethical thing to do in this situation was to recuse himself from the closed debate and abstain from voting. He obviously did not do so, and is therefore in violation of “moral principles or code.” The problem, Mr. Meadows, is not how you voted, but that you voted on this issue at all.