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New Ethics Office Confirms 10 Probes

The fledgling Office of Congressional Ethics revealed on Thursday that it has launched 10 investigations so far in 2009.According to a two-page report, the OCE, an independent office established to review and refer potential rules violations to the full House ethics committee, has approved 10 preliminary investigations and has voted to continue six of those probes to a secondary review that will ultimately require a vote by House lawmakers. The report does not detail what allegations are under review, nor does it indicate the names of which Members, aides or House officers are included in any of the investigations.But Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) confirmed last week that the OCE is examining his ties to disgraced Illinois ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who is accused by federal investigators of choreographing a pay-to-play scheme to auction an open Illinois Senate seat.Under its internal rules, the OCE investigates allegations in a two-stage process. The first step includes a preliminary review that lasts 30 days and may be followed by a second-phase review of up to 59 days.At the end of the second review, the OCE must recommend to the full ethics committee whether it should initiate its own investigation or dismiss the matter.According to its report, the OCE approved six preliminary reviews in late February and another four preliminary reviews in late March. At least one board member appointed by each the Speaker and the Minority Leader must agree to initiate a preliminary investigation.The board approved six secondary-phase reviews in late March, a step which requires the support of at least three board members.The report stated that 37 “private citizens— have contacted OCE through March, either seeking information about the board and its procedures or to file allegations against Members, aides or House officers. The report does not indicate whether any of those allegations resulted in investigations.Unlike the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which accepts formal ethics complaints only from Members, the OCE allows complaints from any individual.

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