"The Senate Ethics Committee is not doing its job. Despite many news stories of scandal and transgressions among senators, the committee has dismissed every complaint filed with it over the last couple years," said Holman. "Something is gravely amiss here."
Holman, McGehee, and Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, had even harsher words in a June 16 letter to Boxer and Isakson, after meeting with the committee's staff director.
"While we appreciate that ongoing investigations are sensitive and necessitate discretion, the Committee has taken these understandable considerations to the extreme," they wrote. "Information goes in and no information is generally and routinely available until (with no public timetable) a final disposition is reached. This gives the impression of a 'whitewash' that protects Senate members at the expense of upholding reasonable ethical standards."
The Senate Ethics Committee's last public action was to send and publish two letters of "qualified admonition" to GOP Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and to an aide for former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina on May 25, 2012, for incidents related to the Ensign scandal.
Since that time, the committee has not taken any further action against any member of the Senate or their staffs. The committee reports having received 45 other complaints in 2012 and dismissed all of them, either because the panel lacked jurisdiction or because of insufficient evidence. In 2013, the committee did the same thing, dismissing all 26 cases referred to it.
An additional, but unidentified, case was carried over from 2012 and considered further by the committee in 2013, according to that document. That case was still pending in January of this year, and it is unclear whether it has yet been resolved.
The committee's policy is not to comment on complaints, nor pending or active investigations, and it would not comment on the substance or status of any complaints filed in 2014, or any year prior, for this story.
"The Senate Ethics Committee has a proud tradition of complete bipartisanship in investigating every complaint that comes before it and, when appropriate, admonishing, censuring and even recommending expulsion for violations of ethics rules and laws," Boxer and Isakson said in a joint statement to National Journal. "In recent years, the Committee has significantly increased its efforts to educate and train the Senate community to prevent misconduct and ensure that Senators and staff live up to the highest ethical standards."
The committee did conduct more ethics seminars for new members and congressional offices in 2013 than it had in recent years. And the panel did respond to more than 700 requests for guidance on issues of ethics from senators and their offices in 2013.
A person familiar with the committee's process said that a "large majority" of complaints received by the committee simply do not fall under its jurisdiction. Some involve allegations against President Obama and other executive branch officials, while others complain of disagreements with a senator's floor speech or concerns involving judges—none of which fall under the purview of the Senate committee, the person said.