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Ethics Panel Denies Challenge to Charity Events

The Senate Ethics Committee on Thursday dismissed a liberal watchdog group’s complaints against three Senators who intended to host charity fundraising events during this summer’s national party conventions, ruling that the plans complied with Senate rules.

In a letter to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the bipartisan ethics committee said that the complaints filed against Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) “lack substantial merit. Therefore, the Committee has dismissed your complaints and intends no further action with respect to these matters.”

The panel offered no support for CREW’s allegation that the charity events are just a clever way to avoid the restrictions on soft-money fundraising and access-buying that was supposed to have been eliminated by the new campaign finance law.

“Upon review, it appears that your letters of complaint comprise mere allegations and assertions unsupported by evidence or information,” the committee wrote in a letter to CREW’s executive director, Melanie Sloan.

“The fundamental unsupported assertion upon which your letters appear to be based is that the events in question were designed to, and would, benefit Members of the Senate and others rather than the charities organizing and sponsoring the events.”

Chambliss — who steadfastly held to plans for a charity event at the GOP convention even after Lincoln canceled a similar event in Boston following CREW’s raising of its objections — praised the decision.

“It comes as no surprise that the Senate Select Committee on Ethics would dismiss these unfounded accusations regarding raising charitable funds,” the Senator said.

He noted that he and his wife have actively supported the Camp Sunshine charity for a decade.

“The reality of cancer can be devastating for these children and their families, and any time I can lend my name to an event designed to help ease their burden, I will,” he said. “This decision reaffirms the common practice and approval of elected officials lending their name to raise awareness for charitable organizations.”

Sloan said she had not yet received the letter from the committee, but added that she was disappointed with the ruling.

“I think it was the wrong decision. It is the kind of decision that leads people to have less confidence in the ethics of Congress. And we really don’t need any less confidence in their ethics because it is already at an all-time low.”