Ethics Office Began Nine Probes in Second Quarter

Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:28pm

The Office of Congressional Ethics began nine preliminary probes during the second quarter of the year, launched more in-depth reviews of five cases and referred one matter to the House Ethics Committee for further investigation, according to a report released today.

The cases opened in April, May and June bring the total number of matters the nonpartisan outside ethics office has reviewed during the 112th Congress to 32. It has sent 10 of those to the Ethics Committee for further review and recommended that eight be dismissed.

Though the OCE’s quarterly reports do not reference matters by name, the case that it sent to the Ethics Committee in April for further review is that of Rep. Robert Andrews. The 11-term New Jersey Democrat is alleged to have misused campaign funds to finance a family trip to Scotland and host a party to celebrate his daughter’s graduation. The committee will announce its next steps in that case on or before Aug. 31.

The House established the OCE in 2008 as a fact-finding body to review allegations of misconduct and refer cases to the Ethics Committee, which can determine whether a violation of ethics rules has occurred and apply the appropriate sanctions.

The office conducts its reviews in two stages: a 30-day preliminary review, followed by a 45-day second-phase review that may be extended by an additional 14 days. At that point, the office sends the matter to the Ethics Committee with a recommendation to either dismiss the case or review it further.

If a case is sent to the committee with a recommendation for further review, it triggers a 45-day time window, which can be extended for another 45 days, after which the committee typically must either form an investigative subcommittee to handle the matter or release the OCE’s findings to the public.

The committee’s announcement in the Andrews case was delayed because the rules permit the committee to stop the running clock if a case is referred close to a primary or general election.

The report also noted that 50 private citizens contacted the office during the second quarter, either with questions about its work or to submit information about an alleged ethics violation.