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Posts in "Ethics"
July 24, 2014
The Office of Congressional Ethics recently released its second-quarter report for 2014, and in the middle is a pie graph that gives congressional nerds some insight into what ethical lapses the OCE has been looking into since its inception.
The chart tracks preliminary investigations conducted by the independent ethics office, and, as the graph illustrates, the plurality of investigations since February 2009 — 46 percent — have involved campaign activities.
The OCE reports it has conducted 137 preliminary investigations since 2009, with 49 of those cases transmitted to the Ethics Committee for review.
In addition to the pie chart, the OCE’s quarterly report also reveals that the Ethics Committee is supposed to name two members under investigation on Friday, though no details of the investigation are expected to be released and the Ethics Committee will likely vote to take an additional 45 days to consider the matter.
The OCE also revealed in the quarterly report it voted to refer an entity to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for failing to register under the Lobbyist Disclosure Act.
July 16, 2014
Open government advocates and congressional watchdogs, frustrated with what they decry as a culture of corruption on Capitol Hill, would like to see the House Ethics Committee take more aggressive action on cleaning up Congress.
But the panel’s chairman, K. Michael Conaway of Texas, says it’s not the Ethics Committee’s job to bring forward a more ethical House.
“The members themselves bring forth an ethical House,” Conaway told CQ Roll Call in a recent hallway interview. “The committee itself is just trying to do two things: one, offer up advice to help folks stay inside the white lines, and then when somebody doesn’t, deal with that.”
The Ethics Committee has been in the spotlight again recently, flip-flopping — under pressure — on a disclosure rule for privately-funded travel that the bipartisan panel had quietly dropped.
Government accountability groups, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Congress needs more disclosure, not less.
But Conaway, who earlier this month defended the attempt to loosen disclosure rules, said the committee is not “in and of itself” responsible for producing a higher ethical standard. “The members are responsible for how ethical the House is, and, quite frankly, how ethical the House is perceived to be by the general public.”
The Texas Republican, who is widely expected to trade his Ethics gavel for the Agriculture chairmanship next Congress, said the legacy of the Ethics Committee under his guidance would be, “that we did the work well, and, for the most part, stayed out of the headlines.” Full story
July 1, 2014
Updated 2:58 p.m. | Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is calling on the House Ethics Committee to reverse a change regarding travel disclosure requirements, characterizing the new rule as a step in the direction of less transparency.
The statement came Tuesday afternoon, after a National Journal report on a change to members’ annual financial disclosure forms. Under the new guidance, members do not have to say on their yearly disclosure forms what trips they took and how much they cost.
Members still have to get pre-approval from the Ethics Committee before taking privately funded trips, and they have to fill out a post-travel disclosure form 15 days after a trip; that information is available in searchable form on the House Clerk’s website.
But Pelosi said Tuesday that while the Ethics Committee seems to want to simplify the disclosure process, “Congress must always move in the direction of more disclosure, not less.”
“If the Ethics Committee does not act, then we will call upon the Speaker to allow a vote on legislation to reverse this decision,” Pelosi said in her statement. “In the meantime, Members are encouraged to disclose such trips to both the Clerk and in their annual disclosures.”
But Speaker John A. Boehner’s staff didn’t think Pelosi or her staff had done their research.
A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel, said Pelosi’s staff “needs to talk to her representative on the Ethics Committee, who signed off on this bipartisan change to reduce duplicative paperwork.”
In a rare public statement, the Ethics Committee staff director, Tom Rust, noted that members still needed prior approval from the Ethics Committee and still needed to file paperwork after the trip.
“Neither of those requirements has been changed or diluted in any way,” Rust said.
He also noted that it was the Committee’s nonpartisan staff who recommended the change to the financial disclosure forms. ”The Committee adopted these changes and publicly highlighted them on page 2 of the financial disclosure instructions, which were provided to all financial disclosure filers and posted on the Committee’s public web site months ago,” Rust said. “The Committee is committed to effective and efficient public disclosure, and will continue to look for opportunities to improve the public filings required of Members and staff.”
But even before the Ethics Committee could defend itself, government watchdog groups were already having a field day with the new guidance.
Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the change a ”blatant attempt to avoid accountability.”
“The only Americans who would possibly be in favor of this change are members of Congress,” Sloan said in a release.
On the phone Tuesday, Sloan explained that she doesn’t believe the clerk’s office forms are as easily accessible as the financial disclosure forms. She also wasn’t buying the explanation that the annual forms were duplicative and therefore unnecessary, noting in an ironic tone that, “there’s never any duplication in the government.”
In 2007, the House mandated that members disclose their travel to the House clerk. Before that, the yearly report was the only official reporting mechanism available to the public.
Part of the reasoning for the Ethics Committee change may have its roots in those House rules adopted in 2007. House Rule XXV states that these trips should be considered gifts to the House, not individual members.
Still, Sloan wasn’t buying the argument.
“Whatever explanation they’re giving, the point is to decrease the accountability for these trips,” she said.
June 26, 2014
At the request of the Justice Department, House Ethics Committee has deferred any action on Rep. Michael G. Grimm for telling a reporter on the night of the State of the Union that he would throw him off the Cannon House Office Building balcony for attempting to ask the New York Republican about the federal investigation into alleged campaign finance violations.
The panel announced Wednesday evening that it had voted to pass on the matter at this time after receiving the request from the Justice Department, adding that it would check in with the public at least once a year if it continues to defer action. Full story
June 20, 2014
Rep. Don Young, currently the fourth longest-serving House member, violated rules when he used campaign funds for personal purposes and accepted improper gifts, a House Ethics Committee report said in a letter of reproval Friday.
The report, which the Ethics Committee unanimously approved, comes after a years-long investigation by the Committee and the Department of Justice into allegations that Young, over the course of 12 years, improperly accepted free trips, lodging, meals, even a pair of $434 Le Chameau hunting boots.
“Representative Young also violated House Rules and other laws, rules, and standards of conduct by failing to report certain gifts on his Financial Disclosure Statements,” the report said. Full story
June 19, 2014
Carol E. Dixon, director of advice and education for the House Committee on Ethics, died Monday from unknown causes. She was 44.
Dixon had worked at the committee for 11 years. Family and colleagues described her as an excellent baker, devoted aunt, passionate Michigan football fan and sharp legal mind. The leftovers from her famous Christmas parties were the highlight of every holiday season.
Dixon found joy in helping members navigate complicated ethical questions. “She wanted everyone to be their best self. … She really wanted to make a difference. That was important to her,” her cousin and close friend Mary Raihman told CQ Roll Call.
“I think [Dixon] chose ethics because she wanted to be a part of making the institution great and helping particularly young staffers and new members understand the complex rules that they then had to follow,” said Kelle Strickland, chief of staff to Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas. Strickland added that her close colleague was ”very generous and trustworthy. She worked on the ethics committee and knew how to keep a secret.”
Stephen Dixon told CQ Roll Call his daughter “really cared about what she did. She cared about ethics and she was proud of what she did. .. [She was] really devoted to making the Congress a better place.”
Staffers inside and outside the committee say Dixon’s discretion and meticulous attention to detail made her an invaluable counselor and confidant.
May 29, 2014
Rep. Steve Israel of New York is the first member of House Democratic leadership to call for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made his sentiments public during a CNN interview Thursday afternoon.
Shortly thereafter, Israel released an email statement to CQ Roll Call explaining his rationale.
“If it will help fix the problem to clean house, then yes, he should resign,” Israel said, “but my main concern is getting the root of the problem here, and I want to make sure any steps taken actually lead to drastic improvements for our veterans.” Full story
May 23, 2014
The House Ethics Committee announced it established a special subcommittee to investigate Rep. Michael G. Grimm, already under federal indictment for allegations of misconduct, but the subcommittee members unanimously voted to wait as the Feds pursue the case against the New York Republican.
Ethics Chairman Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, was named chairman of the subcommittee and ranking Democratic Rep. Linda T. Sánchez of California will hold the same role. Also serving on the panel are Ethics members Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla.
The committee issued a brief statement Friday suggesting they will hold off in deference to the Justice Department:
May 14, 2014
Outgoing Rep. Steve Stockman may face legal action from the Federal Elections Commission over failure to pay back political donations after his loss to Sen. John Cornyn in the Texas Republican Senatorial primary.
Stockman reportedly received $5,000 from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s political action committee, earmarked specifically for use in the 2014 general election, not the primary. But since Stockman did not win his Senate primary and will not be running again for his House seat, FEC rules require that he return the money before he dissolves his campaign committee.
Stockman was sent two letters by the FEC last week noting that he cannot terminate his campaign arm, Friends of Congressman Steve Stockman, until he settles up. Full story
May 5, 2014
The House Ethics Committee announced Monday that it is continuing an investigation into Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez’s former employment of a lobbyist.
In a 177-page report detailing the charges against the Illinois Democrat, he is accused of improperly paying his former chief of staff, Doug Scofield, more than $590,000 from his Members’ Representational Allowance to train staff. Gutiérrez’s office paid Scofield between $4,500 and $6,000 a month between 2003 and 2013.
In the report, which was prepared by the Office of Congressional Ethics, Gutiérrez is accused of compensating his former chief of staff for “impermissible services.” The OCE report charges that Scofield was reviewing and drafting speeches, drafting letters to administration officials, advising Gutiérrez on legislative strategies, helping set up a district office and generally serving in a capacity beyond what is allowed. Full story
May 2, 2014
Reps. Vance McAllister, R-La., and Michael G. Grimm, R-N.Y., are back at work in Washington, vowing not to let their respective scandals — the former was caught kissing a married staffer, the latter faces fraud and tax evasion charges — keep them from representing their districts.
But as some of their predecessors in the House and Senate can attest, it can be tough to compartmentalize in the fishbowl that is the U.S. Capitol.
Here’s a look back at some of the biggest congressional scandals of the past decade or so, and what happened to the lawmakers caught in their own tangled webs, selected to give a glimpse into the potential political fates that could befall Grimm and McAllister. And yes, they are all men.
April 30, 2014
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., will meet with recently-indicted Rep. Michael G. Grimm, R-N.Y., on Wednesday, a GOP leadership aide confirmed to CQ Roll Call.
The meeting will be pivotal for Grimm, who is battling 20 federal charges of misconduct related to the ownership and operation of a health food restaurant prior to his election to Congress in 2010.
It also will be pivotal for Cantor: GOP leaders have so far been mum on how they will deal with their scandal-plagued colleague in an election year.
Cantor took a firm stance Tuesday regarding Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., who said he will not seek re-election after surveillance footage revealed the married father of five kissing a married staffer.
McAllister’s plan to serve out the remaining months of his term didn’t sit well with Cantor, who told the Louisiana Republican to resign now.
Grimm has not only said he won’t resign, he’ll seek a third term. Cantor’s response to that plan could chart the course for Grimm’s ultimate political survival.
April 29, 2014
Rep. Vance McAllister quelled some of his kissing scandal by agreeing not to seek re-election in the fall.
Apparently that wasn’t enough for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who reportedly asked the recently-installed Louisiana Republican to resign immediately.
“When we took the majority, I had said that I believe we ought to hold ourselves to a higher standard. And I think what has happened in his instance doesn’t meet that standard. So I told him that I thought he should resign,” Cantor told Politico, which broke the story.
Shortly after news surfaced that the conversation between the two lawmakers had taken place, McAllister sent out a statement explaining that he would serve out the duration of his term, despite the wishes of the House’s No. 2 Republican. Full story
Speaker John A. Boehner made his first public comments Tuesday on the indictment of Rep. Michael G. Grimm on fraud and tax evasion charges, telling reporters he thinks the New York Republican was right to resign his committee post.
“Listen,” the Ohio Republican said at his weekly press conference. “He has stepped down from his committee assignment last night. I think he made the right decision.”
Pressed further, Boehner stressed, “I think all members should be held to the highest ethical standard. Mr. Grimm is under indictment. He resigned from his committee assignment and I think he made the right decision.” Full story
April 28, 2014
Michael G. Grimm informed House Speaker John A. Boehner in a letter Monday he is stepping down from his post on the House Financial Services Committee while he battles criminal fraud and tax-evasion charges.
“In light of recent events, I am writing this letter to respectfully request to be removed from my position on the House Financial Services Committee. Upon a successful resolution of pending legal matters my intention is to resume said position as an active member of the committee,” the New York Republican wrote in the letter.
Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, said the speaker agreed with Grimm’s choice. Full story