Dozens of House members under scrutiny, from early review to full probe, ethics report showsBy Larry Margasak, AP
Friday, October 30, 2009
Ethics panel scrutinizing dozens of House members
WASHINGTON — Dozens of lawmakers have drawn scrutiny from their ethics monitor this year for everything from financial dealings to travel and campaign donations, according to a leaked account showing an active House panel secretly at work.
Seven of the lawmakers — four not previously known — serve on a defense appropriations subcommittee that divvies up money for Pentagon contractors.
Most of the names and investigative subjects, mentioned in a summary of the ethics committee’s work last July, were known. But the summary — obtained by The Washington Post — shows the widespread scope of preliminary reviews and investigations the panel can have before it at any one time.
If anything, the document rebuts arguments of some watchdog groups that members of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — the ethics committee — do little to investigate their colleagues.
The document shows the scrutiny involved some 30 members last summer, but it lumps together lawmakers who are subjects of a complete investigation with subpoena powers with those who may simply have asked for a ruling on a proposed trip to be financed by a private sponsor. Full investigations by an investigative subcommittee are announced publicly.
Committee Chairman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and ranking Republican Jo Bonner of Alabama, went further than usual on June 11 by announcing they were examining the conduct of some lawmakers on the defense panel even though no investigative panel was formed.
Members of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee had steered targeted appropriations called earmarks to clients of a now-defunct lobbying firm — PMA — and received contributions from the firm and its clients.
The names of defense subcommittee chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., and Democratic members Jim Moran of Virginia and Peter Visclosky of Indiana had previously surfaced in connection with the inquiry.
The document adds the names of Norm Dicks, D-Wash.; Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio; ranking subcommittee Republican C.W. Bill Young of Florida and Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan.
All four have received campaign contributions from PMA’s political action committee and employees. Donation figures compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics show that:
—PMA’s PAC and employees together were the single biggest source of political money to Dicks in each election cycle from 2003 through 2008 when donations are analyzed by the givers’ employers. Dicks received roughly $89,500 from them during that period.
—The lobbying firm’s PAC and staff also were Kaptur’s top single source of donations by employer during the 2008 election cycle. Collectively, they gave her about $28,500 for the last election and $12,500 for the 2006 election, a total of about $41,000. They gave her nothing in 2003-04.
—Tiahrt raised roughly $19,750 from PMA’s PAC and employees from 2003 through 2008.
—Young collected about $9,250 from the 2003-04 election cycle through last year.
The Pentagon budget panel had such an allure for Kaptur — who represents a Toledo-anchored Rust Belt district — that in 2005 she gave up her party’s top seat on the agriculture subcommittee to claim a rare open seat on Murtha’s subcommittee. She would have become one of a dozen Appropriations subcommittee chairmen had she stayed put.
A spokesman for Kaptur, Steve Fought, said she expected to be cleared.
“The congresswoman has always emphasized openness and transparency, and it almost goes without saying she will continue to cooperate,” he said. “She’s saying there was no quid pro quo.”
Dicks said, “I can assure you that I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with all applicable House rules and statutes. I am confident that all of my actions as a member of the House have been appropriate, and I expect that when all the inquiries are concluded, I will be completely exonerated.”
Tiahrt said he has no reason to believe he’s under investigation by the ethics committee.
“Projects I submit that are approved by both the Appropriations Committee and the full House are made available online with my name appearing next to the initiative,” he said. “I also routinely issue press releases for these funding requests because I’m proud to fight for worthy projects that help protect our troops serving overseas and that create thousands of direct, high-quality Kansas jobs.”
The document was leaked to The Washington Post after a junior ethics staff member saved it on the hard drive of a home computer. The staff member, who had information sharing software, didn’t realize that someone could download the file but was subsequently fired anyway.
A House staff member, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, said the committee employee’s actions were inadvertent but violated House rules requiring the safeguarding of official documents.
The Recording Industry Association of America said the disclosure was evidence of a need for controls on peer-to-peer software to block the improper or illegal exchange of music. Some lawmakers have tried for years to bring this about.
Mitch Bainwol, the group’s chairman and chief executive officer, said, “It’s now happening (in) Congress’ backyard, and that should be a powerful catalyst to enact real reforms to protect consumers.”
The most prominent lawmaker under investigation, House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., has been interviewed about his personal finances, the document showed.
However, it revealed less than the committee’s public announcements about the ever-expanding investigation of Rangel’s travel, financial deals, fundraising and financial disclosures.
Earlier this month, the committee announced it authorized nearly 150 subpoenas in the Rangel investigation, interviewed 34 witnesses, produced 2,100 pages of transcripts, reviewed and analyzed more than 12,000 pages of documents and held more than 30 meetings.
The Justice Department often asks the committee to suspend its work when prosecutors are looking at the same allegations. The document said this occurred in the case of Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., whose finances came under scrutiny some three years ago.
“As I have said a number of times in the past, I do not know whether any investigation is ongoing or not. I have not been contacted,” Mollohan said.
Subpoenas were authorized to the Justice Department and National Security Agency for intercepted communications in an inquiry involving Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif. News stories have reported she was heard in a 2005 conversation agreeing to a request to seek lenient treatment for two pro-Israel lobbyists accused of illegally disclosing national defense secrets.
Charges were dismissed against the lobbyists at the request of prosecutors.
Harman has denied she had contacted anyone seeking favorable treatment for the lobbyists, and she has asked the Justice Department to release any transcripts of her recorded conversations
Tags: Appropriations, Campaigns, North America, Political Action Committees, Political Corruption, Political Ethics, Political Fundraising, Political Issues, Political Organizations, Subpoenas, United States, Washington