Archive for October, 2009

U.S. Capitol DomeThe House Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) – an advisory panel to the regular House ethics committee established this year at the prodding of the reform community – is alive and well despite the barrage of attacks by lawmakers opposed to its very existence.

After years of ethics violations in Congress going uninvestigated by the regular House ethics committee, which is run by lawmakers themselves, OCE was created as a panel of outside experts charged with conducting preliminary investigations of possible ethics violations by lawmakers and their staff and then referring cases with merit to the House ethics committee for a final determination. OCE’s underlying purpose is to prod the ethics committee into fulfilling its mission of enforcing congressional ethics rules.

As the Washington Post reports, an accidental leak of confidential records by a staffer of the House ethics committee shows that the House ethics committee is indeed reluctantly carrying out dozens of ethics inquiries, mostly in response to OCE preliminary investigations.

And the House ethics committee and many lawmakers do not like it. Today, in dismissing one of the OCE-referred complaints, the House ethics committee publicly condemned OCE, alleging that the advisory panel did not provide the lawmaker with exculpatory information during its preliminary investigation. The charge is baseless. The attack on OCE is nothing short of a coordinated effort by some lawmakers to bring an end to OCE – and an end to active investigations of ethics violations. Even some congressional Democrats long for the days of Tom DeLay’s lack of ethical standards.

We cannot let that happen. OCE is a critical component in helping drain the swamp of ethics transgressions on Capitol Hill. As some lawmakers seek to dissolve OCE, it is imperative that we defend it – and defend it we shall.

The following letter was published Thursday, October 29, in the Washington Post. Stand up to Halliburton, and sign our petition!

In her Oct. 25 column, Kathleen Parker defended the 30 GOP senators who opposed Al Franken’s amendment to the defense appropriations bill. The amendment would restore access to justice for individuals who are sexually assaulted or harassed while working for defense contractors. Under current law, many defense contractors can use the fine print of employment contracts to strip employees of the right to go to court — even if the employees are assaulted by co-workers in a lawless environment permitted by the employer.

Ms. Parker first argues that contractors might not know what is in their subcontractors’ employment contracts. But that problem is easily solved — by requiring disclosure of the contracts.

Ms. Parker then argues that Congress should prohibit binding arbitration for criminal cases. We could hardly agree more, which is why we support the Arbitration Fairness Act, a bill that would end binding arbitration for all employees and consumers. At the same time, we also urge Congress to pass Mr. Franken’s amendment. That the amendment makes needed progress without ending forced arbitration for every American is no reason to oppose it.

David Arkush, Washington
The writer is director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch.


Jamie Leigh Jones

By now, you are probably aware of an amendment to a bill funding the Department of Defense that would prohibit the U.S. government from doing business with defense contractors who deny employees who have been raped or sexually assaulted, like Jamie Leigh Jones, the right to hold them accountable in court. This amendment, introduced by Senator Al Franken, passed the Senate 68-30, with all 30 “no” votes coming from Republicans. The vote has received a great deal of attention and prominent commentators have both criticized and defended these 30 Republican senators for their votes (mostly criticizing).

But the bill has yet to become law – the House and the Senate still need to agree on final language – and there is troubling news coming from Washington. The Department of Defense initially opposed the amendment on the floor, and has cited problems with “enforcement.” The White House has kicked this issue over to the Pentagon and has said little more publicly than that they support “the intent of the amendment,” though it’s unclear exactly what that means. There were also early reports that the provision might be weakened in Congress.

The amendment is currently in limbo, but we need to ensure that it is not removed or weakened. Senator Franken’s amendment is important to the untold number of women who have already been

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Several thousand citizens made their voices heard this week in Chicago at the American Bankers Association convention, telling the banksters that enough is enough. We’re sick of them taking trillions of dollars in taxpayer cash and supports while handing out millions in bonuses to their executives. It’s time to break up the big banking firms and re-regulate the financial markets. The videos above and below are from this week’s protests; the Huffington Post has some more. You can also get a lot more information and find out how to take action at Showdown in Chicago.

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Things have been quiet on the Don’t Get Rolled front. We’re still waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision, and there’s still good reason to fear that the court could overturn a century of campaign finance law, allowing unlimited corporate spending to influence elections. Sound like a bad idea to you? You can pledge to protest if the court decides to open the floodates to corporate money in politics.

Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), primary sponsors of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002, eloquently defend the campaign finance laws that the court is threatening in the YouTube videos below.

Sen. McCain:


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