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Ethics Office Opened 32 Cases During 112th Congress

The Office of Congressional Ethics opened 32 matters during the 112th Congress and recommended that the House Ethics Committee review 13 of those further for alleged wrongdoing, according to an end-of-year report released Tuesday.

The quasi-independent, fact-finding agency was created by the House in 2008 to review allegations of misconduct within the chamber and to refer matters that need further action to the House Ethics Committee. The bifurcated process typically results in the ultimate release of the office’s report on a matter. A statistical summary of the office’s work is published on a quarterly basis.

Though the OCE report does not reference matters by name, some of its recent referrals have included cases related to the alleged actions of former Reps. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and current Reps. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., and Bill Owens, D-N.Y.

Schock is alleged to have asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to contribute $25,000 to the anti-incumbent super PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability in support of Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., as he ran for Congress. Owens took a trip to Taiwan at the invitation of the Chinese Culture University that had actually been arranged in part by lobbyists for the country’s government at a New York firm founded by former Republican Rep. Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato.

In addition to the 13 cases the office sent the committee for further review, it recommended that another 10 be dismissed. Those matters never become public unless the committee decides it needs to empanel an investigative subcommittee or take additional steps that require disclosure.

During a congressionally mandated “blackout period” during the fourth quarter of last year, the office did not open any new matters but conducted a review of its investigatory procedures. Attorneys who represent lawmakers in ethics proceedings recently raised some procedural concerns about the office. Some of those concerns were addressed when the office’s board adopted rules revisions on Jan. 25.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are each responsible for selecting, with the other’s consent, four members the office’s eight person board. The House adopted a recent rules change that allowed four of the board members to return, replacing a provision that would have mandated the first turnover of half its members since the office was created, and allaying government watchdog groups’ concerns that its ability to conduct investigations would lapse.

Former Congressman and ex-CIA director Porter J. Goss, R-Fla., and former Rep. David Skaggs, D-Colo., returned as its co-chairmen. Other returning board members and alternates were: former Reps. Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, D-Calif., Karan English, D-Ariz., and Bill Frenzel, R-Minn.; former House Chief Administration Officer Jay Eagen and former Federal Election Commission Chief of Staff Allison Hayward. Former Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Md., is the lone new board member for the current congress, replacing former Rep. Abner Mikva, D-Ill., who retired.

The fourth-quarter report also indicated that approximately 2,700 private citizens contacted the office during the last congress, either to request information or submit evidence of misconduct.

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