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Sánchez, Once Ethics Subject, Now Panel Member

Democratic leaders on Tuesday tapped Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) for the party’s top seat on the House Ethics Committee, putting her at the helm of the same panel that investigated her in the previous Congress.

As Roll Call first reported in May 2009, the Ethics panel reviewed whether Sánchez and her sister, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), violated House rules in connection to a staffing arrangement between their offices.

At the time of the incident in late 2006, Linda Sánchez put three of Loretta Sanchez’s aides on her own payroll because of a budget shortfall in her sister’s office. Another of Loretta Sanchez’s former aides later pleaded guilty in federal court to embezzling office funds, which caused the budget shortfall.

Stan Brand, a defense attorney and former House general counsel, told Roll Call in 2009 that the Sanchez sisters brought the matter to the Ethics Committee’s attention and requested the review themselves.

Linda Sánchez’s office could not immediately provide details about the outcome of that review, but a confidential Ethics panel document leaked to the public in late 2009 suggests the committee closed the inquiry that same year.

Democrats have not yet named lawmakers to fill their remaining four seats on the evenly divided panel.

Republican leaders reappointed all five of their lawmakers who served on the Ethics panel in the 111th Congress, including now-Chairman Jo Bonner (Ala.).

GOP Reps. Charlie Dent (Pa.), Michael McCaul (Texas), Mike Conaway (Texas) and Gregg Harper (Miss.) also returned to the panel.

The committee could have another potentially frenzied session: The panel is expected to resume its investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) after scrapping a scheduled ethics trial in November, and another 15 investigations remained open at the end of 2010.

Waters had been scheduled to face allegations that her chief of staff tried to secure federal support for a bank in which Waters and her husband held hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock. But the committee postponed that hearing indefinitely after it announced in November that it had uncovered new evidence in the case.

But that Waters investigation also sparked internal committee strife, prompting the panel to place two of its staffers, Deputy Chief Counsel Morgan Kim and attorney Stacey Sovereign, on administrative leave. An attorney for the duo told Roll Call earlier this month that they remain on leave and do not expect a resolution until the panel is reconstituted.

Among its other cases, the Ethics panel is expected to release its report tied to allegations involving ex-Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), who resigned in March after accusations surfaced that he had sexually harassed his aides.

The Ethics Committee is also scheduled to rule before Saturday on whether it will pursue a recommendation from the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether fundraisers held by Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Tom Price (R-Ga.) and John Campbell (R-Calif.) in advance of the 2009 financial reform vote violated House rules.

In addition, Sánchez and Bonner, both first elected to the House in 2002, must agree to hire a new staff director for the committee. Ex-Staff Director Blake Chisam resigned from the post in December.

Sánchez, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, has not previously served on the Ethics Committee.

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