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House Committee on Ethics

The Rules of the House of Representatives authorize this committee to investigate potential violations of any law, rule, or regulation by a Member of the House and to make recommendations to the House for disciplinary action.

 

It can investigate potential ethics violations related to Members’ travel, acceptance of gifts, outside sources of income, and financial disclosures.

 

The Committee is always chaired by a member of the majority party and the Ranking Member is always a member of the minority party.

The Committee consists of 10 members and, unlike other committees in the House of Representatives where the majority party always holds more seats than the minority party, Ethics Committee membership is divided evenly between the parties in order to promote impartiality in its judgments.

However, it is important to note that this committee ultimately consists of politicians who may be influenced by political considerations when making decisions.

 

For example, an even division of seats between political parties does not ensure the Committee will investigate thoroughly or impose appropriate punishments in instances where both parties feel it is politically expedient to look the other way. 

Thus, while the Committee on Ethics can and has punished political corruption in the past, the absence of condemnation by the Committee does not equate to absence of corruption.

The so called "discipline clause" of the U.S. Constitution allows each chamber of Congress to determine the rules under which it operates, punish Members for wrongdoing, and to expel a Member if deemed appropriate:

"Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member."

- U.S. Constitution, Art. I, § 5, cl. 2.

However, the Constitution makes no provision for a mechanism of investigating misconduct or enforcing consistent punishments.

The need for such a mechanism led to the creation of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct in 1967.

The name was changed to the House Committee on Ethics in 2011. It is often simply referred to as the Ethics Committee.