Friday, March 03, 2006

Voinovich votes against creation of an independent office of public integrity

The Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics and Junior Senator from Ohio recently passed up on an opportunity to support an effort to form an independent office to oversee the enforcement of congressional ethics and lobbying laws.

Voinovich's vote was in keeping with the 'go-slow/let's study this issue to death' approach he advocated in this opening statement to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on January 25, 2006 (emphasis added):

...As the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, I have been given the responsibility by my colleagues to ensure that the Senate community is true to the trust that has been placed with us. This is a heavy burden, but one that I am proud to have been given.

With these thoughts in mind, I believe that we must carefully consider the various proposals for lobbying reform that have been put forward or that are still being refined. This consideration must be mindful of the current rules, regulations and federal code to ensure that any new rules or changes to existing rules do not unintentionally weaken what we already have in place. Any changes that are ultimately adopted must be the result of thoughtful deliberation, not rushed through in an attempt to show the American people that we are doing something about the abuses of the system that they read and hear about in the media.

Madam Chairman, our efforts to reform the rules governing lobbying must be done in a truly bipartisan fashion.

Bipartisan...isn't that what you call support for a proposal from

...chairman, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and its ranking Democrat, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), that would have created an office of public integrity to toughen enforcement and combat the loss of reputation Congress has suffered after the guilty plea in January of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff... [Jeff Birnbaum, Ethics Office For Hill Rejected]


Unfortunately, many of Mr. Voinovich's colleagues were 'bipartisan' in their 11 to 5 defeat of the proposal.

[Ed. Note: The roll call for the vote referred to in Jeff Birnbaum's article could not be found on the committee's web site but Senator Voinovich's vote against the provision was confirmed with a direct call to his press secretary.

A follow-up call to the office of the committee did uncover the following details on the votes for and against the proposal by the committee members:

For: Senators Collins (R), Lieberman (D), Levin (D) , Carper (D) and Lautenberg (D)

Against: Senators Voinovich (R), Stevens (R), Coleman (R), Coburn (R), Chafee (R), Bennett (R), Bennett (R), Domenici (R), Warner (R), Akaka (D), Dayton (D), Pryor (D).

Unfortunately Pork Busting Hero Tom Coburn also voted against the proposal. What gives Tom!

Senator Coburn's office has been contacted for an explanation of his position and the response, if any, will be posted here.]

More from Jeff Birnbaum's article:

Yesterday, the governmental affairs panel spent most of its three-hour drafting session debating the Collins-Lieberman proposal. Collins argued that by hiring professionals to oversee lobbying reports and the investigation of ethics complaints, Congress would improve its credibility by ending the appearance of
conflict-of-interest created by the self-policing of its ethics committees...

But Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), chairman of the Senate's Select Committee on Ethics and a member of Collins's panel, said the ethics panel does not need any help because it is already doing a thorough job of enforcing the chamber's rules. Speaking of the audits and investigations that the office of public integrity would undertake, Voinovich said: "The ethics committee is already doing those things."

With the backing of current and past ethics panel members in attendance, Voinovich proposed, and the governmental affairs committee adopted, an amendment that would strike the new office from the committee's bill while requiring more openness in the now secretive ethics panel. An annual report would list the number of alleged rule violations that are reported or otherwise dealt with by the House and Senate ethics committees...

Related: Voinovich, Collins head for stand-off


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