Rep. Perry voted to strip ethics oversight powers
For more than two days after House Republicans unleashed a storm of condemnation with their behind-closed-doors vote to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, uncertainty surrounded Rep. Scott Perry’s role in the controversy.
Contacted Wednesday, a spokesman said Perry wasn't available for the rest of the week, and the spokesman wouldn't comment on how the congressman voted.
However, the York County Republican broke his silence Thursday, confirming that he supported the amendment that would have put the independent committee under the control of the legislators it is tasked with overseeing.
The affirmative vote “was the right thing to do,” Perry said, while insisting “none of this changes the fact that members of Congress are required to earn the public’s trust every single day.”
The ethics office was created to be an independent watchdog, but “morphed into a tool to vilify political opponents” in Washington, D.C., Perry said.
“The amendment charges the Office of Congressional Ethics to maintain its primary area of focus, accepting and reviewing complaints from the public, while providing due-process rights for individuals under investigation – rights everyone is afforded under our judicial system,” Perry said in a statement.
The Washington Post reported that the proposed change also would have prohibited the office from employing a spokesman, investigating anonymous tips or referring allegations to prosecutors without the permission of the lawmakers on the Ethics Committee, "which would gain the power to summarily end any OCE probe."
Perry said there was “absolutely” a “better time and place” to reform the Office of Congressional Ethics, “as the Democrats haven’t hesitated to score political points.”
The amendment was approved by a 119-74 vote among Republican lawmakers Monday night, but by early Tuesday afternoon the amendment was dropped amid an outcry from constituents, government watchdog groups, Democrats and President-elect Donald Trump.
The office: Leo Wise, who served as the head of the Office of Congressional Ethics from its inception in 2008 until 2010, said the board was started in response to corruption scandals surrounding former federal lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the House Ethics Committee’s inaction in response to the scandals.
Abramoff spent four years in federal prison after being caught up in multiple corruption scandals. The investigations into Abramoff also uncovered corruption by several White House officials under President George Bush and a then-sitting U.S. congressman.
The office was set up to give the public a way to raise concerns about elected officials’ conduct, Wise said. If the office conducted an investigation and found sufficient evidence, its report would be referred to the House Ethics Committee to take action, Wise said.
The Office of Congressional Ethics is strictly nonpartisan and professional, he said, with members appointed by the U.S. House Speaker and House Minority Leader. All appointees require approval from both House leaders to be placed on the board.
These members include former members of U.S. Congress, former judges and members of the military, among others, Wise said.
The office’s investigation procedure is designed to “get at the facts” by weeding out false accusations, interviewing witnesses, collecting documents and using other widely accepted investigation techniques, Wise said.
“We didn’t get complaints from political parties or campaign committees,” Wise said of his two years in charge. “There was never a single investigation started because of a political candidate or opposition.”
Wise said it was difficult to foresee what would become of the Office of Congressional Ethics without independence from the lawmakers it investigates, as it hasn’t happened before.
Online backlash: With Perry initially mum on the issue, people took to his social-media pages to pepper him about his vote.
Perry has made six posts on Facebook since Monday night’s vote, but none addressed the Office of Congressional Ethics. So constituents and other commenters brought up the vote.
“The first order of business in the R caucus was to weaken how ethics violations are investigated, but you got caught and the proposal was withdrawn,” William Anderson, of York, commented on Perry’s page.
Kathleen Heidecker implored Perry to vote against the amendment though the vote had already been held in a private conference of Republicans.
“Do not vote to gut the Congressional Ethics Committee,” Heidecker wrote. “This is not draining the swap, it is giving the alligators more room to play.”
Henry Senatore, of Hanover, commented on Perry’s page, asking what “Republicans have against oversight, accountability and transparency.”
“To stop corruption, there needs to be an independent body (or) else we are destined to repeat the Jack Abramoff experience,” Senatore said.
On Thursday, Senatore, 70, said he doesn’t like the brand of politics used by politicians such as Perry and state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, blaming their style of governing for a lack of legislative action over the last decade.
“If you look at charts that have been done on the volume of legislation done by each Congress, we’re at a nadir as far as what they’ve accomplished in eight years,” Senatore said. “And it was not great before that, either.”
Though he disagrees with Perry’s vote, Senatore said he doesn’t think things would be much different without ethics oversight, since most investigations by the Office of Congressional Ethics are rejected by the House Ethics Committee.
“It’s just not the right thing to do now. One of the things that Washington needs to do is restore confidence,” Senatore said, noting he has never seen less confidence in government since he started voting in the early 1960s.