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House Ethics Reviewed 96 Cases During 112th

The House Ethics Committee maintained its pace during the 112th Congress, when it handled 96 separate investigative matters, empaneled two new investigative subcommittees and publicly reprimanded one House lawmaker for violating the chamber’s ethics rules.

During the 111th Congress, the committee worked on 111 separate investigative matters. It probed only 22 cases of alleged wrongdoing during the 110th.

A biennial report on the committee’s activities filed earlier this week shows that the panel fielded at least 40,000 informal requests for guidance, issued more than 900 advisory opinions on House ethics rules, received more than 6,000 financial disclosure filings, interviewed 106 witnesses and reviewed nearly 500,000 pages of documents in its investigatory matters.

More than seven pages of the 63-page report were devoted to an investigation into whether Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., improperly intervened with federal regulators on behalf of a bank in which her husband had a financial stake.

After three years, a canceled public hearing and the hiring of an outside counsel to review alleged committee wrongdoing, Waters was cleared in September of any impropriety for setting up a meeting between Treasury Department officials and the National Bankers Association. Waters’ grandson and chief of staff, Mikael Moore, received a “Letter of Reproval” for his role in the matter.

The Waters case, along with several others concerning members of the Congressional Black Caucus, spurred internal committee discussions about alleged racial disparities in ethics inquiries.

“The Committee as a whole had several collegial discussions and the staff took steps to ensure they are aware of the potential for bias, and that they remain vigilant to ensure that every case is handled only on the merits and is consistent, in relevant ways, with House and Committee precedent,” read the report submitted by departing Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif.

Outgoing Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., was the only House lawmaker who received a formal punishment for ethics violations in the 112th Congress.

The House in August adopted a committee report that concluded Richardson not only used government resources for campaign and personal purposes but also obstructed an investigative subcommittee’s probe of the matter. Richardson was fined $10,000 for compelling her congressional staffers to perform compulsory campaign work and received a public reprimand for her actions.

The second investigative subcommittee empaneled during the 112th Congress reviewed allegations that departing Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., improperly used her office for financial gain by taking official actions that benefited her husband’s medical practice.

Though the subcommittee “unanimously concluded that the information it obtained indicated that Representative Berkley violated House Rules, regulations, laws or other standards of conduct,” it could not reach a consensus as to whether the Nevada lawmaker should receive a formal letter of reproval.

“In its Report, the ISC [investigative subcommittee] noted that Representative Berkley was entirely cooperative with the investigation, and credited her testimony both in terms of candor, and in terms of her objective lack of malicious intent in violating the rules,” the biennial report said.

The report prepared by the investigative subcommittee that handled the case was released in December 2012 as a form of informal public reproval, and the committee closed the case. Berkley, amid ongoing ethics allegations, made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., last November and will not be returning to Capitol Hill.

In addition to the 27 matters it referenced publicly during 2011 and 2012, the committee report notes there were another 69 cases that remained confidential, 42 of which were resolved.

There are currently 34 investigative matters pending before the committee that it could address during the next Congress, including open cases that it received from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics related to Reps. Robert E. Andrews, D-N.J.; Michael G. Grimm, R-N.Y.; Bill Owens, D-N.Y.; and Aaron Schock, R-Ill.

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