House Defeats Effort to Cut Funding for Ethics Office

The House of Representatives has defeated an amendment by Democrat Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina to slash funding for the Office of Congressional Ethics, the so-called "outside" ethics watchdog on Capitol Hill.

The OCE, which is relatively new and different from Ethics Committee, takes potential complaints from private citizens and groups about the conduct of lawmakers. If it determines there is fire where there's some smoke, it then refers the complaint to the full Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee does not have to take up a complaint referred from the OCE.

This "wide-net" strategy has drawn criticism from various lawmakers of both parties who believe that virtually anything can then wind up before the OCE. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been particularly critical of the OCE.

CBC member Watt introduced the amendment to the FY'12 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, which would slash 40 percent (more than $600,000) of the OCE's budget.

The amendment failed 302 to 102.

Seven members voted present. Most are them are members of the Ethics Committee.