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Office of Congressional Ethics Releases Quarterly Activity Report

The Office of Congressional Ethics opened one new case during the first quarter of this year, began a more in-depth review of three others and recommended that the House Ethics Committee investigate two more matters, according to a report released today.

The activity brings the number of cases the quasi-independent fact-finding agency has reviewed during the 112th Congress to 23. Nine have been sent to the Ethics Committee for further review while four were referred with a recommendation for dismissal.

Though the OCE report does not reference matters by name, the two cases referred to the Ethics Committee concerned Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.). The committee confirmed on March 23 that it had received cases from OCE involving the lawmakers and is still considering whether to investigate. The panel will announce its next steps at a later date.

Buchanan has been the subject of two federal probes into possible violations of campaign finance law, though it is unclear whether the ethics case is related to those inquiries.

The Department of Justice is said to be looking into whether Buchanan directed his former business partner to reimburse car dealership employees for contributions made to Buchanan’s congressional campaign. The Federal Election Commission investigated similar allegations and concluded there would be “no further action” on the matter before closing Buchanan’s file. The Ethics Committee will announce how it will proceed on May 9, when the OCE’s findings will likely be released.

Buchanan is also the subject of a separate case before the Ethics Committee related to income and director positions he omitted on his annual financial disclosure forms. The committee confirmed in February that it would continue reviewing the omissions, but would so without forming a formal investigative subcommittee.

The second case referred to the ethics panel stems from a request by Nevada’s Republican Party that the OCE look into whether Berkley broke House rules by intervening on behalf of a federally funded kidney transplant program in which her husband had a financial stake.

The committee said in March it would delay announcing its next steps until July 9, nearly a month after the primary election in Nevada, where Berkley is running for Senate.

The House established the OCE in 2008 to review allegations of misconduct and refer matters to the Ethics Committee, which can determine appropriate sanctions. A statistical summary of the office’s work is published on a quarterly basis.

The office conducts its investigations in two stages: a 30-day preliminary review, followed by a 45-day second-phase review that may be extended by 14 days. At that point, the office sends the matter to the Ethics Committee with a recommendation for further review or dismissal.

If the office refers a matter with a recommendation for further review, the committee must release a report on the OCE’s findings after a 45-day period, which can be extended by an additional 45 days, unless it forms an investigative subcommittee to look into the matter.

Beyond the OCE’s two referrals for further review during the quarter, there were two matters sent with a recommendation for dismissal and a third for further review that was not finalized until the quarter had ended. The committee’s first statement on that case will come on May 17.

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