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In Bachmann's case, which OCE officals would not discuss, investigators are likely trying to figure out two things: Whether there were, as a former staffer alleges, improper payments to campaign operatives from her political action committee, and, since OCE and the ethics panel only have jurisdiction over House members and not campaign staffers, whether Bachmann herself knew about them. In 2011 12, it took up 32 cases and recommended the Ethics Committee consider 13 of them.

of Congress other than the Ethics Committee, which was made up, of course, of members of Congress," Stephen Spaulding, staff counsel at the government watchdog group Common Cause, said. "For too long, they've operated without someone looking over their shoulder. The OCE provides that accountability."

"We think the OCE does a terrific job," said Nike Metcon Total Orange Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

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But what is the OCE? In the word jumble of bureaucratic Washington acronyms, OCE is certainly not the most prominent. But in the realm of government ethics watchdogs, the five year old House agency actually plays a fairly prominent role.

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Before 2008, "there was no cop on the beat for members Nike Zoom Elite 7 Black

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WASHINGTON One of the lasting legacies of Michele Bachmann's boom and bust presidential campaign will be the legal headaches she still carries from it, including a newly revealed investigation into potential campaign finance violations from the Office of Congressional Ethics.

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The office serves as a sort of grand jury, investigating potential ethical lapses by members, staffers and officers in the House (the Senate has its own ethics panel), forwarding cases with sufficient evidence to the House Ethics Committee for further investigation and potentially formal punishment.

As soon as the office initiates an investigation, it informs both the ethics committee and the member in question, then dives in, looking at documents and conducting interviews with would be witnesses who choose to cooperate (unlike the Ethics Committee, the OCE has no subpoena power).

"We believe they wouldn't have created it and kept it going unless they thought we were doing some good," he said.

´╗┐Ethics office probing Bachmann has tense relationship with House members

"The public disclosure is what spurs the House Committee on Ethics to do their jobs," said Bill Frenzel, a former Minnesota congressman who sits on the OCE's board of directors. "I think when we sit there we think of ourselves as kind of a grand jury but we are very conscious of the fact that we don't find guilt or innocence. We simply send the case forward with info or let it go."

The OCE filled a bit of a loophole in the congressional ethics rulebook. Before OCE's inception, the House Ethics Committee would only investigate potential ethics violations if it was tipped off by members of Congress themselves. OCE can look into tips from any source, be it a tipster, a Federal Elections Commission filing, or even a news report, as long as two of the group's eight board members vote to do so.

conduct a second 45 day investigative phase (which is where the Bachmann inquiry is, according to the Daily Beast). But doing so commits the OCE to filing a report on the matter with the Ethics Committee, either recommending further review or not. The Ethics Committee would then decide whether to do its own investigation and determine appropriate punishment.

A preliminary investigation takes 30 days, OCE senior counsel Bill Cable said, at which point the board decides if there's probable cause to continue digging. If there is, the office can Nike Kyrie 1 All Star Price

Congress founded the OCE in 2008, establishing an outside ethics review organization, good government activists say, because of a lack of confidence in the standing House ethics panel.

Good government advocates say there's an easy answer for lawmakers' reticence: No one wants their conduct to be investigated, especially if said investigations might become public.

How an investigation works

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out at the end of a congressional session anyway, revealing when the board decided not to investigate potential ethical lapses.

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If the Ethics Committee takes up the case, the OCE filing becomes public. But if it chooses not to follow up, the report comes Nike Lebron Basketball Shoes Sale

Still, House members have a tense relationship with the office, often accusing it of going after potential ethics violations too vigorously. In 2011, North Carolina Democratic Rep. Melvin Watt tried to amend an appropriations bill to slash the office's budget by 40 percent. Watt, who had been cleared by an OCE investigation the year before, said the office was "unfair, undemocratic, and they have singled people out." The amendment failed, though it garnered 102 votes (Bachmann, campaigning for president, did not vote).

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