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 …

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 …

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

Sheldon Silver Latest Domino to Fall in New York Political Scandals

Ex-New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was convicted this week on corruption charges, is the latest domino to fall as New York’s culture of political corruption unravels. The next is likely to be Dean Skelos, the former Senate Majority Leader, who is on trial now.

NLPC was not the source of the evidence on which the charges against Republican Skelos and Democrat Silver were based, but the investigations would not have taken place if not for NLPC’s exposés of a slew of other corrupt officials.

Last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo disbanded the so-called “Moreland Commission,” an anti-corruption panel he named in 2013 to root out graft in response to all the headlines generated by NLPC. Cuomo shut down the Commission because it was apparently getting too close to his friends.

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, opened a criminal investigation of Cuomo …

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 …

With Boehner Going, Ethics Committee Must Release Azerbaijan Junket Report

John Boehner’s Speakership was a setback for Congressional ethics. He backslid on a number of important reforms, and helped to return the Ethics Committee to its traditional role of covering up wrongdoing by incumbent members of Congress.

Boehner ally Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA), the Chairman of the Ethics Committee, is currently orchestrating a whitewash of apparent House rules violations related to a junket by ten House members to Azerbaijan in 2013.

On July 31, the Ethics Committee announced that it had found “no evidence” that the ten broke House rules. It plans “no further action regarding this matter and considers it closed.”

For ethics groups, however, the matter is far from closed. In fact, both liberal and conservative groups, along with reform advocates like Norm Ornstein, are demanding the Committee release a report on the trip compiled by a separate entity, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).

According to the …

Ethics Groups Demand Ethics Committee Release Azerbaijan Junket Report

The following letter was today sent to House Ethics Committee Chairman Charles Dent (R-PA), in photo, and Ranking Member Linda Sanchez (D-CA):

We are writing to express deep concern about the House Ethics Committee’s decision to withhold the findings of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) related to its investigation of Member and staff travel to Azerbaijan.  The Committee’s action, along with its order to OCE to “cease and refer” without the Committee having officially started an investigation, sets a dangerous precedent that could fundamentally undermine the important benefits that OCE has brought to the House ethics process.

On July 31, the House Ethics Committee issued its report, “In the Matter of Officially- Connected Travel by House Members to Azerbaijan in 2013” (“the Ethics Committee Report”). In the Ethics Committee Report, the Committee concluded that no Members knowingly violated House ethics rules and standards while raising concerns about possible criminal …

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 …

Report: Mollohan Should Have Been Indicted

Alan MollohanDocuments obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) from the Department of Justice provide “hard evidence” that former Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) should have been prosecuted after NLPC exposed his questionable financial dealings, and triggered a Justice Department investigation.

CREW executive director Melanie Sloan told Politico yesterday, “It was clear the Justice Department should have indicted Mollohan.”

Mollohan was defeated for re-election in 2010 in a Democratic primary. His ethics woes were a key issue in the campaign.

Although we have not yet had the opportunity to study the underlying documents, CREW has released a very concise summary of their own review. The CREW summary confirms the key accusations made by NLPC against Mollohan. It is also a serious indictment of the Justice Department for failing to prosecute Mollohan.

The investigation began in February 2006 after NLPC filed a 500-page Complaint with the U.S. Attorney for the …

Meeks Pushed for Iran Sanction Exemption After Azerbaijan Junket

There’s fallout from the July 27 Houston Chronicle exposé of a trip to Azerbaijan by 10 member of the House that violated House rules. The trip was ostensibly sponsored by nonprofit groups but was actually funded by oil companies BP, Conoco Phillips and SOCAR, the national oil company of Azerbaijan. According to the New York Post today:

Rep. Gregory Meeks pushed to let an Iran-backed natural-gas project dodge US sanctions — after attending an illicit junket paid for by energy companies.

 Also from the Post:

 “Congressman Meeks went on a 2013 Congressional trip to Baku, Azerbaijan, subsidized in part by corporate interests which lobby Congress — a violation of House rules. Shortly after he returned, Meeks sponsored a resolution wanted by those same corporations,”