Ethical Standards In Congress
I guess that winning a political office, especially a Congressional seat must be like winning the lottery. Now that you’ve won you feel invincible and are on a political high and headed out to “conquer” your new world.
Then reality sets in and you’re literally the new kid on the block. What to do, what to do? I guess after you’ve acquired your spacious office in one of the new congressional office buildings, and have put up all your “stuff” on the walls, found your way to the restrooms and know which doors go where it’s time to “go to work”.
I’m sure there are “freshmen” classes to acquaint the newly elected to the political order of business and procedural rules and regulations and so on and so forth. Then someone has to “teach them the ropes” and how not to get in the way or how to prevent their toes from getting stepped on.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something that would teach these esteemed House and Senate members how to be nice and civil toward others. Maybe they need a sign that says “Doesn’t play well with others” that they must wear throughout their days in office, until they graduate to one that says “Team Player”.
But then again that wouldn’t really solve anything because existing members of Congress have gone way beyond that already. In fact many of the outspoken and disrespectful members of Congress already know about civility, respect and ethics and they have chosen to ignore them altogether.
Who are we hearing today in 2019, Hank Johnson, Maxine Waters, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elijah Cummings and others who are members of the Congressional Black Caucus and acting in uncivilized manner toward President Trump. Their actions, words and deeds have emboldened some of the newly elected freshmen House and Senate members to the point they feel no shame or remorse being publicly and blatantly disrespectful toward the nations President.
So why hasn’t the Congress taken action in the form of a warning against the newly elected and/or acted to censure the seasoned legislators who call for harassment, harm and violence against current administration officials, their families and everyday citizens who support President Trump? Out of the 513 Congressional Caucuses, Task Forces, Working Groups and Committees these are a sampling of why Congress behaves as they do.
I looked through the entire list of Caucuses, not once did I find a Congressional Caucasian Caucus or a Congressional White Caucus. I did not find any Congressional European-American Caucuses either. Congress has virtually caucuses for just about everything else including the one on Antisemitism, yet we have an incoming member of Congress who is blatantly anti-Semitic and her actions have already been picked up by the news media. Nor did I see a Congressional Committee on the Southern Border Caucus. The only Caucus that seems to be working flawlessly is (#35 below) the No Political Action Committee Caucus and they seem to be very good at it.
Congress has an ethics code, an ethics committee and posted rules which are being ignored and violated, with no action being requested or taken against the offenders. The House Ethics Manual is from the 110th Congress, 2nd Session dated 2008. Maybe it’s time to update the manual and/or enforce the current one.
GENERAL ETHICAL STANDARDS
Members, officers, and employees of the House should:
- Conduct themselves at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the
- Abide by the spirit as well as the letter of the House rules; and
- Adhere to the broad ethical standards expressed in the Code of Ethics for Government Service.
They should not in any way use their office for private gain. Nor should they attempt to circumvent any House rule or standard of conduct.
Employees must observe any additional rules, regulations, standards, or practices established by their employing Members.
The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct urges Members, officers, and employees of the House to call or to write the Committee with any questions regarding the propriety of any current or proposed conduct. The Committee‘s Office of Advice and Education will provide confidential, informal advice over the telephone, and the Committee will provide confidential, formal written opinions to any Member, officer, or employee with a question within its jurisdiction.
General Ethical Standards
Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.
That ―public office is a public trust‖ has long been a guiding principle of government.2 To uphold this trust, Congress has bound itself to abide by certain standards of conduct, expressed in the Code of Official Conduct (House Rule 23)3 and the Code of Ethics for Government Service.4 These codes provide that Members, officers, and employees are to conduct themselves in a manner that will reflect creditably on the House, work earnestly and thoughtfully for their salary, and that they may not seek to profit by virtue of their public office, allow themselves to be improperly influenced, or discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors. This chapter discusses the overarching principles that inform both codes, the penalties for violating their provisions, and the history and procedures of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
Appropriate standards of conduct enhance the legislative process and build citizen confidence. ―Ethics rules, if reasonably drafted and reliably enforced, increase the likelihood that legislators (and other officials) will make decisions and policies on the basis of the merits of issues, rather than on the basis of factors (such as personal gain) that should be irrelevant.‖5 Members, officers, and employees should, at a minimum, familiarize themselves with the Code of Official Conduct and the Code of Ethics for Government Service. The Code of Official Conduct and the Code of Ethics for Government Service not only state aspirational goals for public officials, but violations of provisions contained therein may also provide the basis for disciplinary action in accordance with House rules.
Violations of Ethical Standards
Violations of ethical standards may lead to various penalties. The U.S. Constitution authorizes each House of Congress to punish its Members for disorderly behavior and, with the concurrence of two thirds, to expel a Member.6 The House may also punish a Member by censure, reprimand, condemnation, reduction of seniority, fine, or other sanction determined to be appropriate.7
A House rule specifically authorizes the Standards Committee to enforce standards of conduct for Members, officers, and employees; to investigate alleged violations of any law, rule, or regulation pertaining to official conduct; and to make recommendations to the House for further action.8 Committee rules reflect the Committee‘s authority to issue letters of reproval and to take other administrative action.9 House rules further provide that either with approval of the House or by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of its Members, the Committee may report substantial evidence of violation by a Member, officer, or employee to the appropriate federal or state authorities.10
Some standards of conduct derive from criminal law. Violations of these standards may lead to a fine or imprisonment, or both. In some instances, such as conversion of government funds or property to one‘s own use or false claims concerning expenses or allowances, the Department of Justice may seek restitution.
Among the sanctions that the Committee may recommend be imposed upon a Member in a disciplinary matter is the ―[d]enial or limitation of any right, power, privilege, or immunity of the Member if under the Constitution the House may impose such denial or limitation.‖11 The Committee may also recommend sanctions be imposed by the House against an officer or employee of the House. Such sanctions could include dismissal from employment, reprimand, fine, or other appropriate sanction.12
Charges of unethical conduct can be evaluated only on a case-by-case basis. As the Committee has noted, ―it was for the very purpose of evaluating particular situations against existing standards, and of weeding out baseless charges from legitimate ones, that this committee was created.‖13
Congress has Caucuses on Veterans, Homelessness, Sexual Violence, Elder Justice and Humanitarian issues, yet we see an increase on every level.
I have pulled the following 40 Caucuses and/or Committees as a visual display of what is wrong in our Congress. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have instrumental roles and/or positions within over 100 different Caucuses, yet they concern themselves not with the betterment of Americans as a whole, but look for ways to promote and keep racism at the forefront by their conduct.
Take a look:
- Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Alma Adams(D) (CBC), Bradley Byrne (R)
- Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Nita Lowey(D), Chris Smith (R), Eliot Engel (D), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R), Ted Deutch (D), Kay Granger (R), Marc Veasey (D) (CBC), Peter Roskam (R)
- Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Annie Kuster(D), Dan Donovan (R), Jackie Speier (D) (CBC), Dave Joyce (R)
- Black Republican Congressional Staff Association – Sponsor(s): Brian Fitzpatrick(R), Will Hurd (R)
- Build America Congressional Staff Association – Sponsor(s): Dave Brat(R)
- Congressional African Staff Association – Sponsor(s): Yvette Clarke(D) (CBC)
- Congressional America the Beautiful Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): David Cicilline(D), Ted Poe (R)
- Congressional Black Associates – Sponsor(s): Elijah Cummings(D) (CBC)
- Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Danny Davis(D) (CBC), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) (CBC)
- Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Bonnie Watson Coleman(D) (CBC), Robin Kelly (D) (CBC), Yvette Clarke (D) (CBC)
- Congressional Civility and Respect Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Steve Stivers(R), Joyce Beatty (D) (CBC)
- Congressional Civility Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Emanuel Cleaver(D) (CBC), Kevin Yoder (R)
- Congressional Constitution Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Dave Brat(R)
- Congressional Counterterrorism Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Mike Gallagher (R), Elise Stefanik (R), Bill Keating (D), Kathleen Rice (D)
- Congressional Elder Justice Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Pete King(R), Suzanne Bonamici (D)
- Congressional Freethought Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Jared Huffman(D), Jamie Raskin (D), Jerry McNerney (D)
- Congressional Homelessness Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Alcee Hastings(D) (CBC), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) (CBC)
- Congressional Hospitality Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Sean Duffy(R), Derek Kilmer (D)
- Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Chris Smith(R), Carolyn Maloney (D), Kay Granger (R), Bobby Scott (D) (CBC)
- Congressional Humanities Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Leonard Lance(R), David Price (D)
- Congressional Labor and Working Families Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Linda Sánchez(D), Stephen Lynch (D)
- Congressional Legislative Directors Association – Sponsor(s): John Lewis(D) (CBC)
- Congressional Military Veterans Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Mike Thompson(D), Tom Rooney (R), Collin Peterson (D), Gus Bilirakis (R)
- Congressional Post-9/11 Veterans Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Tulsi Gabbard(D), Scott Perry (R)
- Congressional Task Force on Election Security – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Bennie Thompson(D) (CBC), Bob Brady (D)
- Congressional Veterans Jobs Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Jeff Denham(R), Tim Walz (D)
- Congressional Voting Rights Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Marc Veasey(D) (CBC), Bobby Scott (D) (CBC), Terri Sewell (D) (CBC)
- Democratic Digital Communications Staff Association – Sponsor(s): Elijah Cummings(D) (CBC)
- House Committee on Ethics Yvette Clarke(D) (CBC), Anthony Brown (D) (CBC)
- House Whistleblower Protection Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Rod Blum(R), Mike Coffman (R), Kathleen Rice (D), Jackie Speier (D) (CBC), Elijah Cummings (D) (CBC), Vacant (R)
- Law Enforcement Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Dave Reichert(R), Bill Pascrell (D)
- Mental Health Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Grace Napolitano(D), John Katko (R)
- National Service Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Doris Matsui(D), David Price (D)
- New Democrat Coalition – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Jim Himes(D)
- No Political Action Committee (PAC) Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Ro Khanna(D), Beto O’Rourke (D), Jared Polis (D)
- Northern Border Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Kevin Cramer(R), Brian Higgins (D)
- Problem Solvers Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Tom Reed(R), Josh Gottheimer (D)
- Republican Communications Association (RCA) – Sponsor(s): Frank Lucas(R)
- Skilled American Workforce Caucus – Chair/Co-Chair(s): Brenda Lawrence(D) (CBC), French Hill (R)
- Women’s Congressional Staff Association – Sponsor(s): Lois Frankel(D)
Remove the partisan politics and strip away the divisions by racial and ethnic origins that make up the fabric of the United States and what you have left are American’s who all want to live peacefully and strive to reach the American Dream without any special privileges or special treatment.
There needs to be a Congressional Oversight Committee with the power of a Special Counsel to seriously investigate these breaches of conduct which occur many times each day in the Legislative Branch. Not only investigate but recommend prosecution of those who violate the ethics and sully the reputation of Congress. Lawmakers can no longer remain Lawbreakers. Maybe send the entire 535 members back to Legislator 101 classes and start over. Make 2019 the Year of the Congressional Makeover! – I am the Real Truckmaster!