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House Ethics Office Recommends Five Inquiries

The Office of Congressional Ethics reported Monday that it has recommended the House ethics panel open five investigations — which focus on trips to the Caribbean by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, according to the ethics committee.

This marks the first time that the panel has made recommendations since the House voted to establish the quasi-independent ethics watchdog in early 2008.

Although the OCE status report does not detail the recommendations, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct confirmed the proposed investigations concerned five Members who attended privately sponsored trips to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008.

According to the OCE’s quarterly report, the office referred all five reports to the ethics panel in late May, along with one additional matter that it recommended for dismissal.

Under House rules, if the OCE recommends the ethics committee review a matter, the ethics panel has 45 days before it must publicize the OCE’s report and recommendations. The committee may extend that period by an additional 45 days, although it must make that decision public.

(When the OCE recommends a matter be dismissed, however, the ethics panel is not required to publish the report if it reaches the same conclusion.)

In addition, the committee may delay the release of a report if it opts to establish an investigative subcommittee to further review the alleged violations.

Because the committee has already established an investigative subcommittee, it is not expected to immediately release the OCE’s report or recommendations

The ethics panel announced in late June that an investigative subcommittee will evaluate whether the Members who attended the Caribbean trips, sponsored by the New York-based Carib News Foundation, violated House gift rules.

“While the committee was investigating the Carib News matter already, there were OCE referrals related to five Members. Those Members were named in the [June 25] statement,— said Blake Chisam, ethics committee staff director and chief counsel.

That statement listed Democratic Reps. Charlie Rangel (N.Y.), Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (Mich.), Bennie Thompson (Miss.) and Donald Payne (N.J.) as well as Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands).

The OCE, which is tasked with reviewing potential rules violations and recommending investigations to the ethics committee, began conducting its own investigations earlier this year.

According to its second quarterly report, the office has opened 24 reviews, including 14 since May.

“In all but one case, Members of the United States House of Representatives have fully cooperated with the Board’s review,— the report states. “With one exception, Member cooperation has been timely.—

In addition, the OCE reported receiving 67 contacts by “private citizens— seeking either to file allegations of misconduct or request information about the office. Unlike the ethics committee, which allows only Members to file formal complaints, the OCE accepts grievances from the general public.

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