After 16 months of deadlock and inaction the House Ethics Committee has launched two investigations into members of the House, according to the Washington Post. The Ethics Committee has agreed to look into the cases of Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), alleged to have taken bribes from Jack Abramoff in return for favorable action, and Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), who is alleged to have solicited bribes in an international telecommunications deal. The panel refused to hear the case of the retiring former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), who has already been indicted in Texas on money laundering charges and has been closely tied to Jack Abramoff since the mid-90s. The gridlock on the panel actually began due to three admonishments of DeLay in 2004. After the third admonishment Speaker Dennis Hastert and DeLay purged the panel's Republicans, installing DeLay supporters who aggravated the Democrats on the panel by attempting to change the rules on how the ethics process worked. The deadlock ended when the ranking Democrat Alan Mollohan (D-WV) stepped down after he was alleged to have misstated his personal finances and used federal earmarks to enrich himself. The current ranking Democrat is Howard Berman (D-CA) and the chairman is Doc Hastings (R-WA).Continue reading
- Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), under fire for allegedly soliciting bribes in a telecommunications deal, defiantly declared that he will not resign, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Jefferson, who has been named in two plea deals, made this statement, "No one wants to be indicted. I certainly do not and I certainly do not want anyone -- a family member or a close associate -- to be indicted. But I am prepared to answer these charges formally when and if the time comes. . . . I would take full responsibility for any crime that I committed, if that were the case. But I will not plead guilty to something I did not do, no matter how things are made to look and no matter the risk."
- The House Ethics Committee has announced an interim plan to review private travel for members and staff. The plan would involve voluntary cooperation by the persons or groups paying for the travel. These persons could, if they wanted, receive certification for the trip by providing the names of all persons on the trip, including relatives of the lawmaker or staffer; a detailed description of the trip, including an itinerary and agenda; a description of all travel expenses and the source of all expenses; a representation that none of the expenses were covered by a registered lobbyist, lobbying firm, or foreign agent. The Ethics Committee has made no declaration as to whether these documents would be available for public consumption.
- The Wall Street Journal reports that anonymous earmarks continue to be written despite the enormous amount of negative attention they have received in the past six months.
Hotline Blog picks it up via Roll Call:
"Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), under fire from Repulicans and watchdog group over his personal financial dealings, will step aside, at least temporarily, as ranking member of the House ethics committee, according to Democratic insiders."Continue reading
According to CongressDaily PM, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) is calling on Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA) to remove the ranking Democrat Alan Mollohan from the Ethics Committee after a Wall Street Journal article stated that he is currently under investigation in a possible earmarking scandal.Continue reading
Only in a world of contradictions would Tom DeLay, the man who has been holding a stick in the spokes of the House Ethics Committee wheels to keep it from investigating his manifold misdeeds, file the complaint that could break the ethics truce in the House. According to Human Events:
Soon-to-retire Rep. Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.) said today he would file an ethics complaint against Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D.-Ga.) for striking a Capitol Police officer should no other House member do so first.
- Jack Abramoff and Tony Rudy were involved in the 1998 gubernatorial election in Guam, according to the Guam Pacific Daily News:
In e-mails reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Abramoff had asked Tony Rudy, Rep. Tom DeLay's deputy chief of staff, to see if he could garner any assistance in helping the 1998 gubernatorial candidacy of former Gov. Joseph Ada and then Sen. Felix Camacho, now the governor of Guam, who ran against incumbent Gov. Carl Gutierrez at the time.
The e-mail from Abramoff, sent Oct. 26, 1998, stated, “We want to know if there is any way to get Tom to call for an investigation of the misuse of federal funds on Guam by this governor,” referring to Gutierrez.
Abramoff then said he would draft a statement for DeLay and suggested that if Rudy could "issue a press release and letter requesting an Inspector General to investigate these matters, it should have a major impact on the election next week."
Within a few hours, the report states, Rudy and DeLay aide Tom Scanlon released a statement from DeLay and a letter to the Department of the Interior's inspector general, calling for a federal investigation of Gutierrez.
- Former Pennsylvania congressman and current lobbyist Robert Walker “dismissed lobbying reforms approved by the Senate as minimal and said they would ‘have little or no impact on the way Washington actually operates,’” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Walker states that three steps need to be taken to crack down on lobbying abuses, “Credentialing lobbyists, abolishing so-called leadership political-action committees, and barring contributions by lobbyists to individual campaigns.”
- The Toledo Blade reports that Ohio Senate candidate Rep. Sherrod Brown (D), “his family, and his staff accepted 57 privately funded trips, valued at nearly $180,000, in more than a decade in the House - including flights to Finland, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Israel, Moscow, and Taiwan.” Brown opposes a proposed travel ban pending as a part of lobbying and ethics reform.
- The San Francisco Chronicle reports on Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s fundraising: “If money is power in politics, then Nancy Pelosi wields a lot of it.” Pelosi’s ability to raise money has also brought investigations, predominantly by a conservative named Ken Boehm. Although he tried, Boehm “failed to uncover anything that looked like a legal violation or a bona fide scandal, and he eventually got distracted and moved on to researching somebody else.”
- It seems to me that we get one of these “ethics committee sidelined” stories per week. This time it’s from Roll Call, “The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct met for several hours on Thursday but in the end only reached one public decision — to continue an investigation of a leftover complaint from the 108th Congress against Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) for his leaking of an illegally intercepted phone call between Republican leaders in 1996.”
- The Washington Post reports that Maryland is having just as hard a time as Congress in regulating lobbying.
- One day after Jack Abramoff was sentenced to 70 months in prison House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) “offered a privileged resolution today calling for an immediate investigation into Abramoff's ties to members of Congress and staffers,” according to The Fix’s Chris Cillizza. The resolution was defeated 216-193 with the vote coming largely along party lines. Six Republicans joined the Democrats in voting for the resolution, two more voted “present”, while the five Democrats on the ethics committee, “presumably to preserve them from accusations of bias as they continue to urge an investigation into ethics breaches of House members linked to Abramoff,” also voted “present.”
- Mark Tapscott at Tapscott’s Copy Desk was mighty excited about an amendment to the Senate lobbying reform legislation that was proposed by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Barack Obama (D-IL) yesterday:
The Coburn/OBama amendment directs the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to establish a publicly available database of the more than $300 billion the federal government spends each year via contracts and grants to more than 30,000 groups, businesses and organizations.
Making public data about the recipients of that $300 billion chunk of the federal budget and how they spend the tax dollars would remove the biggest roadblock to public accountability that makes Pork Barrel spending possible - You can't track pork barrel if you don't who gets the money.
But then Trent Lott (R-MS) came along and killed the amendment:
The Senate's Rule 22 refers to the germaneness - i.e. relevance - of a proposed amendment. Translated from the Washington legislatese in which senators and congressmen so often hide, this means Lott thinks making sure the public can see who is getting more than $300 billion of their tax dollars has nothing to do with congressional ethics.
Put another way, Lott just told taxpayers to butt out.
- Roll Call reports that “Despite public and private assurances by Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the Senate may not be able to wrap up work on the lobbying reform legislation it is preparing to take up today.”
- “Reps. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the committee’s chairman and ranking member, respectively, met to discuss the panel’s direction shortly before the House left for the weeklong St. Patrick’s Day recess, and more talks are expected soon, GOP and Democratic sources say,” according to Roll Call. Those expected to come before the ethics committee includes Tom DeLay (R-TX), Bob Ney (R-OH), John Conyers (D-MI), Richard Pombo (R-CA), and Jim McDermott (D-WA).
- The Birmingham News reports that backers of earmarks are invoking U.S. law to show that earmarks are justified. Earmark supporters point to the U.S. Constitution Article I, Section 9 reads, “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law,” which also means, “Congress has the right to tailor the nation's budgets as generally or as specifically as it chooses.” Spencer Bachus (R-AL) states, “Either a bureaucrat is going to make a decision how to spend it or your elected member of Congress.”