With members of both parties acknowledging that the highly politicized ethics case involving House Speaker Newt Gingrich was an embarrassment to the institution, Republicans on Sunday called for major changes in the rules for handling such cases.
The House is expected to levy a $300,000 fine and a formal reprimand against Gingrich Tuesday. Key GOP lawmakers including the head of the committee that investigated the speaker - are proposing a “loser pays” provision as a way to deter what they consider politically motivated ethics charges.
“One of the things we have to deal with is frivolous complaints, either by clarifying the threshold of what’s an acceptable complaint or through some kind of ‘loser pays’ mechanism,” Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, R-Conn., outgoing chairwoman of the Ethics Committee, said on the “Fox News Sunday” TV program.
Under the plan envisioned by Johnson, if a House member is cleared of charges, the accuser would have to pay the costs of the investigation.
“The House cannot go on using the Ethics Committee as a field on which to play out ideological differences or personal animosities,” Johnson said.
Another leading Republican, Rep. David Dreier of California, suggested in an interview that outsiders, such as retired judges and former House members, should become participants in the ethics process.
“We need to bring about major changes,” Dreier said, adding that he wholeheartedly supports what he called a “harasser pays” provision.
Implicit in that demand is the widespread sentiment among Republicans that Democrats egregiously politicized the ethics process during the Gingrich probe.
Democrats seemed unreceptive to the calls for reform, even as they conceded that much of the conduct during the Gingrich case left something to be desired.
“The ethics process has been badly damaged,” Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
He described the Gingrich matter as the culmination of “the growing use of ethics process for political purposes.” But he and other Democrats have blamed the Republicans for the trend.
One remaining question in the case is whether Gingrich can use campaign funds to pay the anticipated $300,000 levy.
Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, a Gingrich ally who chairs the House GOP conference, said on “Late Edition” that the decision is up to the speaker.
But he added: “From the political standpoint, he really almost has no choice” but to pay the fine out of his personal assets.