Congress

Tips and calls to the Office of Congressional Ethics spiked last session

More than 13,300 private citizens reached out to group charged with reviewing misconduct allegations

Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi receives the gavel from outgoing House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in January. The pair announced Office of Congressional Ethics appointees for the 116th Congress on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Citizen outreach to the Office of Congressional Ethics more than doubled in the 115th Congress, but the agency’s pre-election blackout period means they didn’t take action on any cases in the last quarter of 2018.

More than 13,300 private citizens contacted the Office of Congressional Ethics during the 115th Congress, up from 6,285 in the 114th Congress, according to the OCE’s most recent quarterly report. The contacts fall into two categories: allegations of misconduct and requests for information about the OCE.

Despite the high public engagement, the 115th Congress yielded fewer actions. The OCE began a preliminary review of 22 cases, fewer than in any previous congress. Seven of those were terminated, and 15 advanced to a second phase review. Seven had the second phase review extended.

Of the 13 cases transmitted to the House Ethics Committee, two were referred with a recommendation of dismissal, and the remaining 11 were referred for the committee’s review.

The OCE took none of those actions in the final quarter of 2018, due to a blackout period around elections. The House Ethics Committee can’t receive any referrals from the office within 60 days before a federal, state or local election in which the subject of the referral is a candidate. Since every House member running for re-election was on the ballot in November 2018, the OCE could not pass along any referrals in that time.

The office has jurisdiction to investigate alleged violations of a “law, rule, regulation or other standard of conduct.” Since its inception in 2008, investigations into “activities on matters of personal interest” have topped the list at 21 percent, with investigations into violations of official allowances a close second at 19 percent and travel at 18 percent.

On Tuesday Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced appointees to the OCE for the 116th Congress, including former Reps. David Skaggs, a Colorado Democrat who will serve as chair; Karan English, an Arizona Democrat; Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia Republican; and Mike Barnes, a Maryland Democrat who will serve as an alternate. Allison Hayward, a conservative law professor and McCarthy pick, will co-chair.

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.

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