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Ethics Panel Amends Rules at Hastily Called Public Meeting

The House Ethics Committee tweaked its rules related to filing financial disclosure statements and those that outline when it can take testimony during a rare public meeting today.

No members of the public were present because the chairman and ranking member invoked a House rule allowing the panel to convene sooner than normal if there is “good cause” to do so.

Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) cited clause 2(g)(3)(B) of House Rule XI in announcing a 12:20 p.m. meeting on the committee’s website minutes before the lawmakers gathered in the Capitol.

A revised version of the committee’s rules was posted on its website after the meeting.

The panel voted to amend Rule 4 to address new reporting requirements contained in the recently passed Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge — or STOCK — Act. It likewise added language to Rule 9 that states when the committee can take testimony related to one of its matters. The revised rule will now allow both an investigative subcommittee or the full committee to take testimony when there are two Members present.

This was the first public meeting of the ethics panel this year. Its last such gathering was at the beginning of the 112th Congress.

Earlier this week, the committee received a letter from Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) addressing investigations of CBC members.

“I write to express my deep and abiding concern with the protracted length, abnormal number, motive and fairness of pending matters involving CBC Members for the Committee on Ethics,” Cleaver wrote.

The May 16 letter specifically referenced the case of Rep. Maxine Waters, and allegations that the California Democrat and a staffer improperly intervened with regulators on behalf of a community bank in which her husband had a financial stake. The charges have gone unresolved for three years.

The case was slated for a rare public ethics trial in November 2010, but it canceled just days before it was set to begin after the committee’s then-staff director became concerned that panel Members and staff had improperly shared evidence and communicated about the matter, according to documents leaked to the media.

The Ethics Committee brought on attorney Billy Martin as an independent investigator to examine the committee’s conduct before deciding whether the case can proceed. Martin’s contract was originally set to expire at the end of last year, but was extended through July. Though he has been seen at recent meetings at the Capitol, the status of his investigation is not clear.

Cleaver has previously suggested there could be a racial element to how the Ethics Committee handles its cases.

In addition to the Waters matter, the committee is actively investigating California Democratic Rep. Laura Richardson. Richardson, who is facing a competitive primary race in a redrawn district against fellow incumbent Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn, is alleged to have violated congressional ethics rules by urging Hill staffers to attend campaign events, run personal errands and work on her re-election effort.

The committee is also looking at active cases concerning Democratic Reps. Alcee Hastings (Fla.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.) and Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), all members of the CBC. Though the panel hasn’t formed a formal investigative subcommittee to handle the cases, it also declined to clear the lawmakers outright.

New reports have “noted several matters, some of which remain unresolved, lasted or continue well beyond normal and acceptable investigative standards when compared to investigations of our non-CBC colleagues,” Cleaver said.

The committee declined to comment on Cleaver’s letter and does not discuss the status of its cases.

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