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New bill would require House members to learn right from wrong

Senators, and congressional staff from both chambers, are required to attend ethics training. House members are not.

Two House members from different parties want to change that, and they’ve introduced a bill this week that might as well be called the “No Member Can Reasonably Vote Against This Act.”

Reps. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Scott Rigell (R-Va.) simply want their House colleagues to be held to the same standards as everyone else by requiring that they attend annual ethics training classes to keep themselves in check.

Cicilline said that “it struck me as odd that we rely on staff to answer these questions.” For instance, Cicilline said there was some confusion over what he could put on his campaign Facebook page versus his official congressional one. (Though the ethics of social media is still very much a gray area generally.)

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, said such training sessions would do a world of good for members who still believe “anything goes.”

“I believe many of the violations we’ve seen of ethics rules really came from a lack of understanding of what the ethics rules are,” Holman said. “I seriously believe many of those who have violated didn’t realize they were violating the rules … it would help try to move members of Congress past the old way of thinking.”

In 2007, Congress passed a law strengthening ethics rules, including restrictions on congressional travel and gifts paid from lobbyists. In March 2008, the House established the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to review complaints of misconduct and then refer them to the House Ethics Committee if further action is needed.

Since it was created, the number of House Ethics Committee actions have quadrupled:


(Courtesy: Craig Holman/Public Citizen)

Despite the uptick in activity, Holman believes the House Ethics Committee is not quick to take actions against its own rule-breaking colleagues and that the OCE should be given more power than just passing along a report of evidence and findings.

But training for House members would be a welcome change for a chamber that Holman says “has been notorious for coming up with a weaker set” of ethics rules.

Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.

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