Surprising No One, Senate Ethics Committee Admits It Is Incapable of Enforcing Official Senate Rules

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Matt Jacob
Phone: 202.408.5565

Surprising No One, Senate Ethics Committee Admits It Is Incapable of Enforcing Official Senate Rules

WASHINGTON - Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) received a letter from the Senate Select Committee on Ethics dismissing the request CREW made last December
asking the committee to investigate senators’ failure to abide by a ban
on secret holds and issue guidance for senators’ future conduct.

In September 2007, the Senate enacted the Honest
Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA), which prohibiting the use
of “secret holds.” Section 512 of HLOGA requires senators to reveal
when they are “intending to object to a proceeding” — a parliamentary
maneuver more commonly known as a “hold,” which is frequently used to
stall or stop legislation or nominations. HLOGA did not, however,
include any mechanism to enforce the ban and senators have continued to
use secret holds.

CREW conducted a review of the Senate Calendar of Business and found
that over a two-year period, only two bills had “a notice of intent to
object” placed in the calendar. For the same period, however, CREW
discovered several bills and nominations that appeared to have had
secret holds placed on them, but for which no corresponding objections
were placed in calendar and no senator publicly announced a hold.

Ethics Committee Chief Counsel John Sassaman explained that the
committee does not have jurisdiction to investigate violations of the
ban because it was intended as a directive and contained no enforcement
mechanisms. While CREW had asked the committee to find violations of
the ban constitute “improper conduct reflecting upon the Senate,” Mr.
Sassaman wrote that finding a violation of the ban “could effectively
turn the Committee into a policing agency for alleged departures from
Senate parliamentary procedure, a matter which is outside the limited
jurisdiction of the Committee.”

CREW executive director Melanie Sloan stated, “If the ethics
committee can’t enforce a ban on secret holds enacted by the Senate
just a couple of years ago, then the ban was clearly nothing more than
a sham from the get go.” Sloan continued, “The Senate tried to pawn off
this ban to an American public fed up with congressional inaction and
secrecy as real change. Now we learn the truth: the ban – like so much
that comes out of senators’ mouths -- is meaningless. Was the ban part
of ‘honest leadership’ or ‘open government’? Seems like a tossup.”

Click here to read the Senate Ethics Committee’s response to CREW.

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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials -- regardless of party affiliation -- who sacrifice the common good to special interests. CREW advances its mission using a combination of research, litigation and media outreach.

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