What is the point of prohibiting members of Congress from accepting personal gifts worth more than $50 if the the House Ethics Committee simply waives the rule?
Freshman Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) has disclosed that she accepted substantial gifts from two donors to her political campaigns. Her office claims that the Ethics Committee waived the rule. The first was from a billionaire hedge fund operator named Lee Ainslie in the form of a private jet flight from New York to Boston. It was purported to be worth $3,300. A commercial flight would have cost about $300. According to the New York Post, which first reported the story, Ainslie and his wife have donated more than $80,000 to Rice’s various political campaigns.
The House today voted down an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Steven Pearce (R-NM), that would have cut the budget of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The tally was 137-270. During debate, Pearce said, "I would urge people to support this amendment to give notice to the OCE that we're watching what they are doing."
This kind of threatening language is inappropriate, and seems calculated to undercut the independence and effectiveness of OCE. Maybe Pearce hasn't noticed, but the American people have had it with business as usual in Washington. People are sick of all the corruption. We need stronger ethics enforcement, not less.
A coalition of good government groups has sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) urging him to appoint a co-chair of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which should not be confused with the House Ethics Committee. The groups also encouraged Ryan to support OCE, which enjoyed lukewarm support, at best, from his predecessor John Boehner.
OCE was established in 2008 and is somewhat more independent that the Ethics Committee because its board is comprised of former members of Congress and private citizens, rather than sitting members. OCE cannot sanction members but can only make referrals to the Ethics Committee.
In a headline today NJ.com asks the question, “How has Menendez Indictment Affected His Senate Duties?” The story details how Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is acting if nothing is wrong, and quotes NLPC Chairman (not executive director) Ken Boehm:
A leading Menendez critic said he had no problem with the senator's efforts to carry on as if he did not face criminal charges.
"Defendants can act anyway they want," said Ken Boehm, executive director of the National Legal and Policy Center, a Falls Church, Va.-based watchdog group. "I take almost an attitude of, 'It's a free country, he's a free man, he's innocent until proven guilty.' At the end of the day, that's not going to change the driving forces behind the indictment."
On December 11, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) amended his financial disclosure reports after he “failed to properly disclose millions of dollars in income from real estate, hedge funds and other investments since entering the Senate in 2007,” according to Brody Mullins in the Wall Street Journal.
The amendments were made after the Journal made inquiries about certain specifics on Corker’s disclosures. Corker called the omissions “filing errors.” From Roll Call today:
The Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) who was seeking to overturn his Censure by the House of Representatives. Lower courts had ruled that they have no jurisdiction over internal workings of the House.
Rangel was Censured by the by the entire House of Representatives on December 2, 2010 by a vote of 333-79, the first such action in 27 years.
The action was the result, in part, of investigations by NLPC. Among the counts alleged by the Ethics Committee were Rangel’s failure to pay taxes on rental income from a Dominican Republic beach house, and his failure to report hundreds of thousands in income and assets on his financial disclosure forms.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), former federal judge who was impeached in 1988 for perjury and accepting bribes, on Monday asserted that members of Congress are not paid enough. He told the House Rules Committee:
Members deserve to be paid, staff deserves to be paid and the cost of living here is causing serious problems for people who are not wealthy to serve in this institution.
The Journal got to the point in its opening paragraph:
Ill-defined federal laws now reach into virtually every sphere of human behavior, and thus prosecutors can destroy almost anyone they choose. The recent indictment of Senator Robert Menendez on 14 counts of corruption and “honest services” fraud is a troubling case in point that deserves more than a little skepticism.
Submitted by NLPC Staff on Wed, 05/13/2015 - 17:59
According to a report by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) that was leaked to the Washington Post, ten House members broke House Rules when they took an all-expenses paid trip in 2013 to a conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, courtesy of an oil company known as SOCAR. Also enjoying free trips were 32 staff members.
Azerbaijan is a country in Central Asia ruled by strongman Ilham Aliyev. In 2012, the Organized Crime and Corruption Project named him its “Person of the Year” for doing “the most to promote organized criminal activity or advance corruption.”
Submitted by NLPC Staff on Tue, 04/14/2015 - 22:29
As we have expected for some time, Dr. Salomon Melgen was indicted today for Medicare fraud. The dollar amounts of his alleged ripoff are staggering. From 2008 to 2013, Melgen billed Medicare $190 million and received $105 million.
Hopefully, this indictment will put an end to the fiction that Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) went to bat for him in a “billing dispute.” Menendez was trying to thwart a fraud investigation, and successfully enlisted the help of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).