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The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, often known simply as the Ethics Committee, is one of the committees of the United States House of Representatives.

Members, 111th Congress

The committee has an equal number of members from each party, unlike the rest of the committees, which are constituted with the majority of members and the committee chair coming from the party that controls the House. This even split has limited its power by giving either political party an effective veto over the actions of the committee. The committee is chaired by Zoe Lofgren of Californiamarker, and the Ranking Member is Jo Bonner of Alabamamarker.

Majority Minority


Source: electing minority members to standing committees.

Function

It has many functions, but they all revolve around the standards of ethical conduct for members of the House. Under this authority, it:
  • Agrees on a set of rules that regulate what behavior is considered ethical for members (rules relating to gifts, travel, campaign activities, treatment of staff, conflicts of interest, etc. are typical)
  • Conducts investigations into whether members have violated these standards
  • Makes recommendations to the whole House on what action, if any, should be taken as a result of the investigations (e.g. censure, expulsion from the House, or nothing if the member is found not to be violating a rule)
  • Provides advice to members before they (the members) take action, so as to avoid uncertainty over ethical culpability


History

The committee has a long history; the first matter it handled was on January 30, 1798, when Rep. Matthew Lyon of Vermontmarker was accused of "gross indecency" after he spat on Rep. Roger Griswold of Connecticutmarker after an exchange of insults (a week later, another complaint was filed against Lyon, this time for "gross indecency of language in his defense before this House"). Since the early days of the House, the Committee's reports have gotten much more technical, delving into the details of campaign finance and other financial arcana.

More recently, during the rise of Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff, there was pressure on the Ethics Committee to take action to admonish members involved in their activities. However, action was slow and blame pointed to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. When the Committee did admonish Tom DeLay for a third time, Hastert fired the Chairman and two other Republican members who voted for the admonishment. Without a quorum, the Committee could not take further action against DeLay or other members involved in that scandal or others.

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