Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) could face a House Ethics Committee investigation into alleged campaign finance violations during her bid for the Republican presidential nomination last year, the Daily Beast reported Monday. The allegations are currently being investigated by the non-partisan Office of Congressional Ethics, which has about three months to decide whether to recommend cases for further investigation to the Ethics Committee.And it got me to thinking.
Not about Representative Bachmann - no, I want to let the process finish before commenting on it. I got to thinking about the process itself. How does an ethics allegation work its way through the House of Representatives these days? What's the process?
Representative Mike Doyle, who we've interviewed before when he was on the House Ethics Committee in 2007, was kind enough to fill us in on some of the details of the process.
First, what's this Office of Congressional Ethics? What is its relationship to the House Ethics Committee?
The OCE was created on March 11, 2008 by way of H. Res 895. Before that, Doyle said, only members could trigger any sort of investigation by the House Ethics Committee. And for this, some watchdog groups in DC took issue with the process as it was. So the OCE was created to make an initial investigation into any ethics violation allegations and, if there's enough evidence to warrant one, then recommend to the House Ethics Committee that it investigate.
The OCE is designed to be non-partisan. Here's how it's described in HR 895:
The Office shall be governed by a board consisting of six individuals of whom three shall be nominated by the Speaker subject to the concurrence of the minority leader and three shall be nominated by the minority leader subject to the concurrence of the Speaker.And:
The Speaker and the minority leader each shall appoint individuals of exceptional public standing who are specifically qualified to serve on the board by virtue of their education, training, or experience in one or more of the following fields: legislative, judicial, regulatory, professional ethics, business, legal, and academic.And:
Selection and appointment of members of the board shall be without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of fitness to perform their duties.And finally:
No individual shall be eligible for appointment to, or service on, the board who:The point of this last part is to show that no member of the OCE board is employed by the government or are members of Congress or is a lobbyist, etc.
(I) is a lobbyist registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995;
(II) has been so registered at any time during the year before the date of appointment;
(III) engages in, or is otherwise employed in, lobbying of the Congress;
(IV) is an agent of a foreign principal registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act;
(V) is a Member; or
(VI) is an officer or employee of the Federal Government.
So while an allegation is submitted to the OCE, Doyle said, they look into it and still not recommend any HEC action. (This is why I am not commenting on whatever's facing Michelle Bachman. It could very easily turn out that the OCE makes NO recommendation to the HEC.) Fair's fair. Even for her.
If the OCE does recommend that the HEC open an investigation, the HEC has a limited amount of time to investigate. And if the HEC decides not to investigate, they'd have to issue a report explaining why.
And the OCE could release its report on why it recommended an investigation in the first place.
On the one hand it seems a bit busy to me, but on the other it looks like a way to make sure important allegations of ethics violations aren't conveniently forgotten or ignored.