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House Ethics Committee

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The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, often known simply as the Ethics Committee, is one of the committees of the United States House of Representatives.

Members of the
House Ethics Committee,
111th Congress
Democrats: Republicans:


Previous committee membership

110th Congress (2007-2008)

Members of the
House Ethics Committee,
110th Congress
Democrats: Republicans:


109th Congress (2005-2006)

Members of the
House Committee on Energy and Commerce,
109th Congress
Democrats: Republicans:


Staff

Source: House Ethics Committee Members.

Investigations in the 109th Congress

If the Committee becomes aware "of facts supporting more formal investigation of one or more Members, officers or employees, we intend to take all appropriate steps under Committee rules, including recommending the establishment of one or more investigative subcommittees."[4]

Past rulings

  • On September 5, 1996 the Congressional Accountability Project filed a complaint against then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay alleging that he “improperly linked campaign contributions to official action and improper political favors for” his brother, a registered lobbyist.[7] The complaint was dismissed and the committee sent a letter to Rep. DeLay advising him not to create an impression that he would trade actions for campaign contributions.
  • On December 17, 1997 an Investigative Subcommittee was formed to determine what action would be taken against Rep. Jay Kim (D-Calif.) after he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor campaign finance violations by accepting illegal corporate and foreign contributions. The subcommittee adopted a six count Statement of Alleged Violation (SAV) and “recommended no further action due to impending loss of jurisdiction”. The committee unanimously adopted the resolution; Kim was defeated in the 1998 Democratic primary election.[8]
  • On September 5, 1996 the Congressional Accountability Project filed a complaint against Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Penn.), then-Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, alleging that he broke the law in his dealings with his former chief of staff-turned-transportation lobbyist Ann Eppard.[9] An Investigative Subcommittee was created but it suspended its activity at the behest of the Department of Justice as they tried Eppard on related charges in Boston. Eppard pleaded guilty to receiving illegal compensation from lobbyist Vernon Clark while she was Shuster’s chief of staff. After resuming their inquiry the Ethics Committee ultimately voted to sanction Shuster for “serious official misconduct” for accepting improper gifts from Eppard, allowing her to advise and appear before him in the year after she left his office, and for having congressional employees work for his campaign to the “apparent detriment” of their work in his congressional office.[10]
  • On June 11, 1999 an Investigative Subcommittee, headed by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), launched an inquiry into whether Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) received bribes from Foutanga Sissoko, a West African businessman convicted of trying to bribe a customs agent.[11] The investigation was prompted by stories in the St. Petersburg Times. While Sissoko served his four-month prison sentence Brown wrote two letters to then-Attorney General Janet Reno on behalf of Sissoko and lobbied both foreign diplomats and fellow members of Congress. During this period Brown’s daughter received a $50,000 Lexus from Sissoko’s and Brown stayed at a Miami condo owned by Sissoko. The Subcommittee ultimately ruled that it did not have enough evidence -- mainly due to the key witness being outside of their subpoena jurisdiction -- to come to a conclusion and instead stated that Brown used “poor judgment” and created an “appearance of impropriety”.[12]
  • On September 22, 1999 an Investigative Subcommittee, headed by Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), began an inquiry into allegations that Rep. Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.) gave improper loans from his campaign committee, payments his campaign committee made to nonprofits and companies tied to Hilliard, and for failure to comply with federal financial disclosure laws. The Subcommittee brought a three-count SAV against Hilliard who ultimately admitted to the wrongdoing.[13] In 2001 the Committee voted unanimously to rebuke Hilliard for the three separate campaign finance violations.[14] Hilliard was defeated for reelection in the 2002 Democratic primary.
  • On July 16, 2001 Rep. Peter Deustch (D-Fla.) filed an ethics complaint[15] against Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) alleging that Buyer “violated the law and ethics rules by using a congressional committee for political purposes during the Florida presidential election recount.” Buyer, chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, had requested information from the Pentagon on how to contact military personnel who had their ballots rejected in the 2000 election. On August 2, the Committee dismissed the complaint explaining that they found no evidence that Buyer had provided information on military absentee voting to anyone for political purposes.[16]
  • On April 17, 2002 an Investigative Subcommittee was established to examine the case of Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio). Six days earlier Traficant was found guilty of conspiracy to violate federal bribery and gratuity laws, receiving illegal gratuity, obstruction of justice, defrauding the government, racketeering, and tax evasion. The Subcommittee quickly adopted a 10 count SAV[17], held an adjudication hearing[18], and found Traficant guilty of nine out of ten violations[19]. The Committee recommended Traficant’s immediate expulsion from the House. The House voted 420-1 to expel Traficant. Traficant was later sentenced to 7¼ years in prison.
  • On March 17, 2004 an Investigative Subcommittee, headed by Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.), was formed to investigate allegations that members of the Republican House Majority had engaged in vote buying by offering financial support for the congressional candidacy of Rep. Nick Smith’s (R-Mich.) son if Rep. Smith voted in favor of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003. The Committee ultimately voted unanimously to admonish three members[20]: then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) for offering “to endorse Representative Smith’s son in exchange for Representative Smith’s vote in favor of the Medicare bill”; Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) for making a “statement to Representative Smith on the House floor during the vote on the Medicare legislation that referenced the congressional candidacy of Representative Smith’s son”; and Rep. Smith for making public statements that his son’s campaign was offered $100,000 and “an endorsement or financial support … from the National Republican Congressional Committee in exchange for voting in favor of the Medicare Prescription Drug Act” and for failing to “fully cooperate” with the investigation.[21]
  • On June 15, 2004 Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas) filed a complaint with the House Ethics Committee alleging three violations of the law and/or House ethics rules. The three allegations were that then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) solicited and received campaign contributions from Westar Energy “in return for legislative assistance on the energy bill”; that Rep. DeLay used a leadership political action committee, TRMPAC, to funnel illegal corporate funds to Texas state campaigns; and that contacts made by DeLay’s staff with “the Federal Aviation Administration and the Justice Department in May 2003 regarding absent Texas state legislators constituted an effort to use federal resources in a political issue and hence were improper under Committee guidance on contacts with federal agencies.” The Committee found that the initial Westar complaints did not merit investigation DeLay’s actions in relation to an energy company fundraiser uncovered in the process of the Committee’s work deserves admonishment. The second complaint was deferred by the Committee on the grounds that Texas authorities are already conducting an investigation into the matter. The Committee also ruled that the contacts made by DeLay’s staff to the Justice Department were not improper, however the contacts made to the FAA did indeed raise concerns of violations of ethics codes. The Committee issued their second admonishment of DeLay for these contacts. In total the Committee issued two letters of admonishment to DeLay and dismissed two complaints while deferring on another.[22][23]
  • On September 21, 2006, the committee cleared Jeffrey Shockey, deputy chief of staff to Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Ca.) for the House Appropriations Committee, of any wrongdoing in accepting a $2 million dollar buyout his previous employer, a prominent lobbying firm. [24]
  • On December 29, 2006 the committee ruled that Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) must "take a number of additional, significant steps to ensure that his office complies with all rules and standards regarding campaign and personal work by congressional staff." Conyers was accused of using his congressional staff, in violation of House rules, for personal and campaign uses. Conyers agreed to take further measures to stop these violations and prevent future violations.[25]
  • The committee concluded its long-standing investigation into Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) by ruling that he had violated the spirit of the House rules when he leaked information about the investigation into then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and when he disseminated to the press an illegally intercepted telephone call. No action was taken against Rep. McDermott.[26]
  • On January 3, 2007 the committee ruled that both Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fl.) and former-Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) violated House rules by accepting travel from an outside source despite the travel being "recreational in nature". Both Feeney and Weldon were ordered to pay out of their own pockets for the travel. The committee's ability to extract money from a former Member, such as Weldon, is a subject of debate. Meanwhile, Feeney has agreed to repay the cost of the trip.[27][28][29]

Committee history

Under investigation, Mollohan steps down

On April 21, 2006, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) stepped down from his post as ranking Democrat on the committee amid accusations that he used his seat on the House Appropriations Committee to funnel money into the hands of business partners, thereby increasing his personal wealth. He was replaced as head of the Ethics Committee by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), a twelve-term House veteran not serving on the panel at the time of Mollohan's resignation. As of June 2006, Mollohan is one of several members of Congress under investigation. [30]

The investigation of Tom DeLay, the Republican purge of the committee, and subsequent rule changes

The investigation of Tom DeLay

In 2004, the Ethics Committee, under the chairmanship of Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), investigated accusations of misconduct by then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Several of the most serious complaints had been lodged by freshman Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas), who had been defeated in his bid for re-election in the Democratic primary after his district had been altered by a DeLay-backed redistricting. Sen. Joe Lieberman had previously called for an investigation into DeLay's use of influence in attempting to involve federal agencies in the search for Democratic Texan lawmakers. Lieberman accused him and his Republican associates of trying to enlist:

  1. Three Federal Aviation Administration offices (in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Fort Worth, Texas and Washington, D.C.)
  2. Four Federal Bureau of Investigation offices (in Dallas, Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas, Austin, Texas and Ardmore, Oklahoma)
  3. Two United States Marshal offices (in the Western and Northern Districts of Texas)
  4. The United States Attorney's office in San Antonio, Texas
  5. The Office of Legislative Affairs at the United States Department of Justice
  6. The Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center (in Riverside, California) [31]

The committee did issue a statement of alleged violation charging DeLay with breaking any official House rules, but it did admonish him for three incidents which the committee said could lead to the perception of impropriety in Congress:

  1. DeLay asking the FAA to track an airplane carrying Democratic state legislators from Texas who were opposing Delay’s planned redistricting.
  2. DeLay hosted a political fundraiser attended by energy lobbyists immediately before a planned vote on an energy bill.
  3. Delay promised to support the candidacy of the son of retiring-Rep. Nick Smith to replace his father in exchange for the elder Smith voting with DeLay on a Medicare Bill. [32]

In a letter to DeLay, the committee stated that: “In view of the number of instances to date in which the committee has found it necessary to comment on conduct in which you have engaged, it is clearly necessary for you to temper your future actions to assure that you are in full compliance at all times with the applicable House rules and standards of conduct.” [33]

While the actual functional ramifications of the committee’s admonishment of DeLay were few, DeLay and his allies were furious with the Republican chairman and members. Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) was quoted as saying that he was “very confused about why Republicans would sign an admonishment.” The committee had, however, released a forty-four page factual report to accompany the admonishment. Chairman Hefly (R-Colo.) stated that he had been attacked and threatened by members of his own party over his unwillingness to curtail the DeLay investigation.[34]

Republican purge of the committee

Many Republicans had immediately voiced their displeasure with Rep. Hefley and the Ethics Committee after their admonishment DeLay in October 2004. [35] When Congress reconvened in 2005, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) replaced Hefly as committee chairman, citing House Rules 10.(5)(a)(3)(C) and 10.(5)(a)(3)(D). In his place Hastert installed Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). Hastings was known to be a staunch ally of Hastert and the Republican leadership and had received money from DeLay's PAC.[36] Hefly had anticipated the move, stating that he did not expect to retain the chairmanship given his role in the DeLay admonishment. [37] He was quoted as saying that there was a “bad perception out there that there was a purge in the committee and that people were put in that would protect our side of the aisle better than I did.” [38]

Hastert also replaced two other members of the panel: Reps. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) and Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio). Both members had supported Hefley in the committees unamimous rebuke of DeLay and other matters.[39] While Hefley had possibly served the maximum amount of time on the Ethics Committee allowable by House rules (there was a debate at the time over the interpretation of the rule), neither Hulshof nor LaTourette had served more than two terms. [40] The rules state that a member may not serve on the committee more than three of five congressional terms if he or she is not the chairman or ranking member for the fourth term. [41] To replace the three Republicans removed from the committee, Hastert appointed Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), and Melissa Hart (R-Pa.). All three had voted for the ethics rule change which would have allowed Tom DeLay to remain majority leader if indicted. Smith and Cole had also donated thousands of dollars to DeLay’s legal defense fund. [42] According to Common Cause, both Hulshof and LaTourette had voted against the rule change despite each having received nearly $15,000 from DeLay's political action committee.[43] Democrats and watchdog groups were critical of these appointments, but Hastert stood behind his decisions and Smith, Cole, and Hart all took their places on the committee when it finally convened for business in July of 2005 after the resolution of a dispute over committee rules.[44][45][46]

The purge of the committee was not limited to congressional members. Upon assuming the chairmanship, Hastings fired staff director and chief counsel John Vargo and chief spokesperson Paul Lewis, both longterm members of the panel. Hastings attempted to replace Vargo with Ed Cassidy, the chief of staff of his personal office. Democrats declared that this was another act aimed punishing the committee for rebuking DeLay. Republicans responded by charging Ranking Member Mollohan with political gamesmanship for bringing the committee to a halt. Former Chairman Hefley, however, entered into the Congressional Record a statement defending Mollohan saying that "If I had been the ranking member and the majority party unilaterally fired the senior committee staff in contradiction to rules which say both the majority and minority must agree, I would have had to react, just as Representative Mollohan did," and that "If I had been the ranking member and the majority party tried to put a partisan chief of staff in as the staff director for the ethics committee, in contradiction to the standards of a nonpartisan staff, I would have had to react, just as Representative Mollohan did." The staffing issue was the last to be resolved before the committee reconvened in July. [47][48][49]

Rule changes

In 2004, as DeLay was facing an impending indictment in Texas (see below), House Republicans voted to change an internal rule requiring members of the House leadership to step down if indicted. By the beginning of 2005, however, they had rescinded the rule change.

After retreating from the internal rule change and backing off a plan to eliminate the ability of the House Ethics Committee to issue the kind of chastisements over actions that fell short of breaking the law or House rules (as in DeLay's case), Republicans did push through several changes to the regulations governing the ethics committee at the beginning of the 109th Congress without Democratic support. On January 4, 2005, the House voted 220-195, (220 Republicans voting for it, 194 Democrats and 1 Independent voting against it), to issue the new ethics rules.[1] Claiming that the concept of the presumption of innocence was being infringed upon, they voted that a majority of the members of the committee must vote for the conduction of an investigation in order for one to be launched. Because the ethics committee is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, this change effectively meant that either party could kill an investigation. Previously, if the committee remained deadlocked for forty-five days, an investigation was automatically triggered. A second rule change allowed multiple witnesses to be prepared for their testimony by the same lawyer, a move that had been previously discouraged to prevent collaboration between witnesses. A third required the committee to inform the subject of its inquiries that they were being investigated and allow them to contest the official letter that normally gives such notice before it is sent out as part of the public record.[2]

House Democrats vigorously protested the new rules and their unilateral imposition. Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.V.), the ranking Democrat on the committee at the time, stated that with the new changes “we might as well not have an ethics committee.” [50] This suggestion became a reality throughout the first part of 2005. Rather than run the committee under the new rules, Democrats refused to participate and thus allow the body to constitute itself. This became increasingly problematic as more and more possible cases for investigation came to light. [51] At the end of April, Republicans agreed to roll back all three of the contentious rule changes, but it was not until June 30 that the two sides reached an agreement over staffing acceptable to both sides and the committee was able to be reconstituted. [52] [53]

The committee, along with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, passed guidelines in February 2007 that would define the limited travel for members of Congress funded by lobbyists. The new restrictions would still allow travel for one-day trips, with the possible exception for a second night's stay (depending on other factors such as distance or other "exceptional circumstances.") The new rules also require that the member of Congress fill out a “private sponsor certification form” and file it at least 30 days in advance. [54] However, on May 2, 2007, the committee reopened the issue for exemptions. It passed, with unanimous consent, measures that would exempt Congressional pilots who use private aircraft to shuttle around their often vast rural districts. [3]

Budget

The Ethics Committee requested a $6.1 million budget for the 110th Congress. If approved by the House Committee on House Administration it would mark a 43% increase from the previous Congress, and a doubling of the 108th's Committee budget. [55]

Articles and Resources

Resources

Wikipedia also has an article on House Ethics Committee. This article may use content from the Wikipedia article under the terms of the GFDL.

Re Thomas D. DeLay and Doc Hastings

Primary documents and evidence

Articles

Re Mark Foley, Dennis Hastert, Tom Reynolds, John Shimkus, Rodney Alexander

Contact


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