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Ney Dismisses Mail Complaint Against Pombo

Declaring that the House Franking Commission violated government statues when it failed to act for more than eight months on two grievances pending against Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) issued a de facto dismissal of the complaints Wednesday, drawing criticism from Democrats on the panel who vowed to continue pursuing the matter.

The Republican lawmaker outlined his decision in a July 13 letter to the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.), and Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.). In it, he asserted that the panel had “effectively forfeited the jurisdiction” when it failed to act on the complaints within a 30-day period set forth by federal regulations.

“Based upon the statutory language, legislative history, precedents of the Commission, due process, considerations, and the facts as outlined above, it is necessary to conclude that the Commission no longer retains jurisdiction over the complaints referenced above,” Ney wrote. According to the letter, that window expired June 16.

The panel’s Democrats had earlier rejected Ney’s interpretation of the franking guidelines, asserting that the commission had not triggered the 30-day requirement because it had yet to determine whether to hold a hearing on the issue.

In an interview Wednesday, Holt criticized the dismissal, citing the Democrats’ request for a public hearing on the issue in a June 21 letter to Ney.

“We Democrats have asked for a hearing on this, and what do we get? The chairman responds by trying to manufacture a technicality to deny it,” Holt said. “I don’t accept this rejection.”

He later added: “I don’t think that we should or will want to drop our request for the commission to look into this.”

At the center of the dispute is a November 2004 flier authored by House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and mailed to residents in Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming on the politically charged issue of snowmobiles in national parks.

Democrats have criticized the literature, which cost $68,000 in taxpayer money for printing and postage, arguing that Pombo violated franking rules by including partisan content. Two complaints filed with the Franking Commission — one from the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen, the other from two Minnesota environmental lawyers — echoed those allegations.

Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Director Frank Clemente, one of four individuals who filed the complaints, said Wednesday he had not seen a copy of the letter but would review franking regulations to determine a course of action.

“It’s outrageous that the ineptitude of the Franking Commission on an important ethics question should result in the dismissal of an ethics allegation against a prominent Member of the House,” Clemente said.

Minnesota attorneys Rebecca Rom and Sherry Enzler, the other complainants, could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Pombo has defended his actions, asserting that he in no way violated the regulations set forth by the Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards, which is more commonly known as the Franking Commission.

“Even a cursory reading of the rules renders these complaints baseless, not to mention the stack of precedents in the chairman’s favor,” Resources Committee spokesman Brian Kennedy said Wednesday.

The California Republican earlier criticized the commission in a May 25 letter to Ney, asserting that the three Democratic members of the six-person panel had demonstrated a “refusal to conduct their official duties” and seeking to have the matter dismissed.

Kennedy likewise criticized the complaints, stating: “The Democrats’ failure to act on this matter has every mark of their broader campaign, which seems to be limited to concocting bogus allegations about GOP members, denying their targets due process, and generating as many story lines as possible before the facts come to light.

“Frankly, it is beginning to rise to the level where an investigation into these smear-and-stall tactics and the apparent coordination with the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] alone may be warranted,” he added, in apparent reference to recent newspaper advertisements that have appeared in Pombo’s district.

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