Rep. Kathleen Rice Took Gifts From Rich Donors

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 second was a gift of a ticket worth $2,500 to a gala opening of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston. The donor was a lawyer named …

House Thwarts New Assault on Office of Congressional Ethics

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 ethics advocates yesterday sent this letter to the House of Representatives:

We strongly urge you to vote against the amendment expected to be offered by Rep. Steven Pearce (R-NM) to reduce the proposed budget of the Office of Congressional Ethics and keep it at its …

Speaker Ryan Urged to Support Office of Congressional Ethics

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.

Its role and importance were demonstrated in the Charles Rangel case.  NLPC President Peter Flaherty tagged along on a Caribbean junket in November 2008 to sunny St. Maarten. He snapped photos and made audio recordings evidencing that the event was underwritten by big corporations like Citigroup, in violation …

Menendez Shameless But Indictment Looms

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."

The indictments resulted from a federal investigation initiated after media reports that Menendez attempted to intervene to thwart a Medicare-fraud investigation of Dr. Salomon Melgen, his largest donor, and that Menendez pressured …

Sen. Corker to Get Scrutiny in Wake of Disclosure Omissions

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:

But for some government watchdog groups, this incident raises questions about what led to the discrepancies on Corker’s reports in the first place, and points to broader problems within the disclosure and congressional ethics process.

In 2007, Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, co-wrote a letter to congressional leaders calling for changes to the financial disclosure process, including narrowing or eliminating the form’s value ranges.

“It’s important to know how much it was because

Supreme Court Will Not Hear Rangel Censure

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.

In August 2008, the NLPC staff reviewed Rangel’s disclosures and noticed that he has a home in the Dominican Republic, but reported little or no rent. We sent an investigator to …

Corrupt Congressman Claims Congress Needs a Raise

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.

Reaction was immediate. From an article by Lachlan Markay in the Washington Free Beacon:

Aside from access to subsidized travel, gym memberships, haircuts, and the like, congressmen have a retirement plan which averages about $40,000 a year for retired members,” said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, an ethics watchdog.

The argument that Congress in underpaid was made last year by another corrupt Congressman, Jim Moran, of Virginia. Despite a string of Complaints to the House Ethics Committee and …

WSJ Editorial Wrong About Menendez Indictment

It’s been almost a month since the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial titled “The Menendez Indictment.”  We responded in a letter to the editor that has not been published. It’s a safe bet it never will be, so we post it here.

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.

Here’s our response:

To the Editor:

The Journal argues that prosecutors have “no evidence” of crimes by Senator Robert Menendez (“The Menendez Indictment,” op-ed, April 16) and points out that the large donations from his chief benefactor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, were “legal and disclosed.”

You

Azerbaijan Junket Broke House Rules

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.”

OCE apparently acted in response to a July 2014 story in the Houston Chronicle by Lise Olsen and Will Tucker describing the trip. In addition to SOCAR, BP, ConocoPhillips and KBR also helped to pay the costs of the event, estimated at $1.5 million. Those costs included $100,000 for hotels, $75,000 for food and entertainment, and …

Menendez Donor Melgen Indicted for Medicare Fraud

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).

The indictment will also hopefully put to rest the allegation that Menendez is being pursued for political reasons. The Justice Department has certainly pulled its punches in recent years by failing to prosecute Reps. Charles Rangel (D-NY), Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and former Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), but the level of Menendez/Melgen corruption is apparently too much even for this Justice Department.

While securing visas for Melgen’s “girlfriends” is pretty …

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