Examining the Claim That Zero Congressional Ethics Hearings Have Resulted in Punishment Since 2007
With news of John Conyers’ sexual misdeeds twisting in the wind, some House Representatives are calling for an immediate Ethics Committee hearing on the matter. But will that make any difference?
Some right-leaning political commentators don’t think so. Some have even floated the claim that out of 600 ethics investigations conducted since 2007, none have resulted in punitive measures. We were shocked by that statement and decided to look further into that claim ourselves.
The disseminated claim appears to have emanated from Twitter user @STP48315. He has a modest following of 157 users and boasts over 12,400 tweets to his name.
Perhaps recognizing the incredulity of these facts, the claim was quickly retweeted by Mike Cernovich, a widely watched right-leaning investigative journalist with 375,000 current followers. STP48315’s claim piqued our interest for the very same reason.
Since 2007, over 600 ethics investigations have been launched. Out of those 600+, ZERO have resulted in punitive measures. They ask for ethics investigations because they know it means it'll go away. #UnsealTheDeals
— ???????????????????? (@STP48315) November 21, 2017
In case you missed it, the tweet is in reference to the #UnsealTheDeals hashtag, which aims to pressure Congress into releasing all the names involved in taxpayer-funded sex abuse settlements since 1997. Over that period, $17.0 million in hush money has been doled out over 264 separate claims. The money emanated from a rather secretive special Treasury account.
The latest coup de gras has befallen House Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the longest-serving active member of Congress. He also serves as the ranking member of the House Committee on the Judiciary.
Several women have accuser Conyers of unwanted sexual harassment, with one of the accusers paid $27,111.75 out of Conyers’ personal office payroll budget. This despite the fact the accuser didn’t show up for work (suggesting culpability).
While the money expensed was separate from the 264 claims mentioned above, it’s a similar type of misconduct taxpayers have been subsidizing all these years. For his part, Conyers denies the sexual misconduct component of the claims. (Source: “John Conyers Denies Reports of Settlement in Sexual Harassment Case,” U.S. News, November 21, 2017.)
Whether the allegations are true or false, Conyers likely faces an ethics investigation. Top Democratic leadership, like Minority House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are already calling for such. If so, will Conyers ultimately be punished?
Perhaps more importantly, how many ethics investigations have actually resulted in reprimand upon completion? Does the claim brought forth by Twitter user @STP48315 have merit? I explore.
Legislative Discipline in the House of Representatives
The House of Representatives—similar to the United States Senate—is expressly authorized by the United States Constitution (Article I, Section 5, clause 2) to discipline its own Members. This may result from infractions stemming “to any criminal or civil liability that a Member of the House may incur for particular misconduct.”
While sexual misconduct scandals are grabbing the headlines, Members can be summoned over “violations of statutory law, including crimes; for violations of internal congressional rules; or for any conduct which the House of Representatives finds has reflected discredit upon the institution.” (Source: “Expulsion, Censure, Reprimand, and Fine: Legislative Discipline in the House of Representatives,” Congressional Research Service, June 27, 2016.)
Naturally, any disciplinary action taken isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair. Punishments are broken down into three tiers and administered depending on the severity of the perceived ethics infractions. The three categories are Expulsion, Censure, and Reprimand.
Expulsion involves the complete and permanent removal of a Member from office. This has only happened five times in Congressional history, usually reserved for treasonous disloyalty to the United States or flagrant violation of a criminal law involving the abuse of official power (such as bribery).
Censure is a formal majority vote in the House on a resolution disapproving a Member’s conduct. It generally comes with the additional requirement that the Member stands at the “well” of the House chamber to receive a verbal rebuke from the House Speaker. Still rare, this has only happened 23 separate times in Congressional history.
Reprimand in the House is similar to a censure but involves a lesser level of disapproval of House Member conduct. The process still requires a formal vote by the entire House, after which a rebuke is given.
What the Record Shows
According to the Congressional Research Service report, since 2007, at least three punitive measures have been administered by Congress. (Source: Ibid.)
On September 15, 2009, Joe Wilson (R-SC) was reprimanded for interrupting Barack Obama’s remarks to a joint session of the House and Senate, which was found to be a “breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session.”
On December 2, 2010, Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) was censured for “misuse of congressional letterhead for fundraising; impermissible use of rent-controlled facility for campaign headquarters; inaccurate financial disclosure reports and federal tax returns.”
On August 2, 2012, Laura Richardson (D-CA) was reprimanded for “compelling official congressional staff to work on political campaign.”
While none of these cases involved sexual misconduct, the record shows that “punitive measures” as a result of Congressional ethics investigations have indeed been administered.
The above facts speak for themselves. The claim that more than 600 ethics investigations since 2007 have gone unpunished is false. Although the expulsion/censure/reprimand rate seems inadequately low, it has occurred.
John Conyers hopes he can avoid a similar fate.