Changes to House Ethics Rules for the New Congress

By: Andrew Pardue

The new House Rules package adopted by the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 9, 2023, to govern the proceedings of the 118th Congress included a variety of changes to the House Committee on Ethics (the “Committee”) and the Office of Congressional Ethics (“OCE”). One of the most significant changes directs the Committee to adopt rules that will create a new process for electronically receiving ethics complaints about Members from the general public, rather than only from OCE referrals. Although the Committee has not yet prescribed the procedure that will govern the consideration of such complaints, this change is likely to produce an increase in the overall number of complaints filed.

The Rules also require the Committee to act more quickly in response to events occurring outside of the House ethics pipeline by directing the Committee to either empanel an investigative subcommittee or issue a report to the House explaining why no such subcommittee has been appointed within 30 days of the date that a Member of Congress, Territorial Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico is indicted or criminally charged in a state or federal tribunal.

Significantly, the Rules also alter the structure of the OCE. Although OCE has been reauthorized, the new Rules reimpose the previous two-term limit on members of the OCE Board, meaning that no Board Member can serve for longer than eight years. This change will mandate the immediate removal of three incumbent Democratic-appointed OCE Board members, who will need to be replaced by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. The Rules also require OCE to appoint OCE staff and set staff compensation within 30 days of the adoption of a new Rules package by an affirmative vote of no fewer than four OCE Board members, thereby necessitating a faster onboarding process that will conclude by February 8, 2023. Note that this change will not prevent OCE from hiring additional staff later in the current Congress if a vacancy arises in the office that needs to be filled.

Finally, the Rules require the Speaker to establish a bipartisan task force to conduct a comprehensive review of all House ethics rules and regulations and submit a report to House leadership detailing the task force’s “recommended improvements.” It is not clear how long this comprehensive review will last, but this change indicates that additional (and potentially more substantial) changes to House ethics rules beyond those addressed in this client alert could be coming before the end of the 118th Congress.

For more information on this topic, please reach out to Andrew Pardue or your personal Holtzman Vogel contact.