As a senator in 2006, Barack Obama tried to pass a law that would have created an independent commission for investigating ethics violations in Congress.
That bill never went anywhere, but the attempt set the stage for a promise during his 2008 presidential campaign, when Obama said he would use the "power of the presidency” to fight for the creation of an independent congressional ethics agency.
Before Obama took office, Congress passed a law creating a similar agency, but one that looked only at the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Office of Congressional Ethics -- an independent and bipartisan agency with six congressional appointees and no elected officials -- survives today and does much of what Obama hoped his commission would do.
Since its inception in 2009, the office has reviewed 92 cases of possible ethical misconduct and referred 32 cases for consideration in the House Ethics Committee.
Government reformers we interviewed said the office has some weaknesses. It has too few on staff -- nine people -- and too small a budget -- about $1.5 million. In just its second year, it underwent a defunding attempt by a member who had been the subject of a recent investigation. It also lacks subpoena power, meaning that it relies on the willingness of House members to answer questions and supply information to investigators.
Despite these structural problems, the office appears to be working effectively, so far.
"It has added serious credibility to the ethics process, in both directions -- exonerating members who have done nothing to merit ethics charges or discipline, and making sure that miscreants are held to account,” said Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
"It has operated in a surprisingly bipartisan fashion,” said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Daniel Schuman, a policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit government transparency group, said "they've fulfilled their mission admirably,” but the office would be better off with subpoena power, more flexible timeframes for conducting investigations and some guarantee that House members aren't going to vote to defund it next session.
On the Senate side, the Senate voted back in 2007 against creating the Office of Public Integrity -- its own version of an independent ethics agency. (The vote failed 71 to 27, and Obama was one of the 27.)
"The vote was so lopsided against it, we know we don't stand a chance of creating a similar office on the Senate side,” said Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist at the nonprofit open-government group, Public Citizen.
As president, Obama could have used the bully pulpit to push the Senate to take a similar approach. He could have spoken about the issue in a public speech or media interviews. We scoured the White House website, searched for news articles, and looked through Votesmart.org, a non-partisan website that tracks public statements by politicians. We didn't find any sign Obama ever talked about a congressional ethics agency once he became president. None of the experts we interviewed knew of such support either.
When we last updated this promise, we said we were on the verge of rating it a Promise Broken, but wanted to see if there would be any effort from the White House. Now, two and a half years later, there's still no evidence that Obama has used "the power of the presidency to fight for an independent watchdog agency to oversee the investigation of congressional ethics violations." Yes, there's the House ethics group, but it was approved before Obama even took office. We rate this a Promise Broken.