On the House Ethics Committee Leak

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Last week, the cable news networks were blanketing their shows with stories about the leaking of a report from the House Ethics Committtee detailing the nearly 30 lawmakers under investigation by the committee. Despite all of the bombast of cable news anchors over the investigations, the totality of the leak is less than meets the eye. Seventeen out of the twenty-nine lawmakers investigated by the committee have already been reported on and a number more had been connected to investigations previously, but their investigation had not previously been reported. In total, only seven investigations were released that were previously unreported, mostly for what would be minor infractions. This amounts to a pretty small amount of unknown investigations for what has turned into a big story.

Importantly, as many are highlighting, the leaked report does show that the Ethics Committee is doing its job. For years, the committee has taken heat for failing to investigate lawmakers and slow-walking those investigations when it does. Despite early clashes, it appear that the new, independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) has prompted the committee to investigate and review a number of cases regarding potential ethical misconduct by lawmakers. This is a positive development, however, the leaking may cause problems as many lawmakers are now associated with ethical problems despite the fact that they have not had a full hearing and could well find these ethics complaints dismissed.

On the actual investigations, the biggest information from the leak is that half of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee is under investigation for allegedly trading earmarks for campaign contributions. Previously, the public was aware that federal investigators and the committee were likely looking at Reps. John Murtha, Pete Visclosky and Jim Moran. Now we know that the committee is investigating those three lawmakers plus Reps. Bill Young, Marcy Kaptur, Norm Dicks and Todd Tiahrt. Aside from the probe of Rep. Charlie Rangel, this investigation involves the most serious allegations and could cause trouble for this bipartisan cast of lawmakers. Furthermore, it continues to show that the appropriations process, particularly for defense spending, is a failed process. This is now the third major investigation into defense appropriations in the past five years. Previously, Rep. Duke Cunningham was sentenced to prison for trading earmarks and appropriations for goodies and Rep. Jerry Lewis has been the subject of a similar federal investigation.

The other investigations involve four lawmakers probed for improperly receiving a tax break on their homes in Maryland or the District of Columbia; North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler is under investigation for a land swap deal; Florida Rep. Connie Mack is under investigation in connection to an earmark for Coconut Road that was submitted by Rep. Don Young; Rep. Joe Barton was under investigation for gifts given to a non-profit that he operates by companies with business before his committee, but he has since been exonerated. All the other lawmakers under investigation have been previously publicly reported.

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