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 …

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 …

Taking the Bait on Menendez Story

Commentators on both the Left and the Right are suggesting that the impending indictment of Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is retribution against Menendez for his recent criticisms of Obama administration foreign policy. While we concur that almost everything that Attorney General Eric Holder does is tainted by politics, a few points about the Menendez case are in order:

1) The reported charges against Menendez, that he tried to interfere with a Medicare fraud investigation of his largest donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, and that he went to bat for Melgen in the Dominican Republic port security deal, were not cooked up by the political operation at the White House.

The Medicare investigation was initiated by the anti-fraud unit of HHS. (Melgen was the biggest recipient of Medicare reimbursement in the whole country in 2012). The port security deal was uncovered by the National Legal and Policy Center. We broke the story …

Senator Robert Menendez Facing Criminal Indictment?

CNN is reporting that Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) will be indicted on charges related to favors he provided to his largest campaign contributor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Miami-area eye doctor.

The probe was reportedly initiated after media reports that Menendez intervened on Melgen's behalf with government officials regarding a Medicare billing dispute and a port security deal in the Dominican Republic. Based on information provided by NLPC, the New York Times first reported on February 1, 2013 that Menendez went to bat for the Dominican port security deal that would have resulted in a "highly lucrative windfall" for Melgen.

One of Melgen’s companies contributed $700,000 to Senate Majority PAC, a “super PAC” associated with now-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Most of the money was spent in New Jersey to re-elect Menendez in 2012.

In January 2014, Menendez disclosed that he accepted a third flight on a private jet owned …

McDonnell Going to Jail, but We’re Stuck With His Taxes

McDonnellFormer Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife were found guilty yesterday of charges related to their acceptance of gifts from a businessman named Jonnie Williams, Sr. They are most likely going to prison where meals, soap and everything else will be free. Unfortunately, Virginia taxpayers will be paying the price for their misrule long after they are released.

McDonnell’s transportation plan, signed in 2013, puts a huge tax burden on ordinary citizens and helped corrupt Virginia politics. It obligates taxpayers to funding projects like the recently opened Metro Silver Line, which will never come close to breaking even. Made possible by the issuance of bonds (debt), these capital-intensive projects cannot simply repealed by the Legislature and another Governor. We are stuck with them, and the costs, forever.

The beneficiaries are unions, bond traders, and all the real estate developers whose properties near transportation projects will skyrocket in value.

I’ve …

Rangel’s Dominican Politics

Rangel in beach chairRep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) faces a primary election tomorrow against State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who came within 1,100 votes of upsetting him two years ago, and Harlem preacher Rev. Michael Wolrund. If elected, Espaillat would be the first Dominican elected to Congress. In a June 6 televised debate, Rangel invoked Espaillat’s ethnicity:

Just what the heck has he done besides saying he’s a Dominican?…He wants to be the Jackie Robinson of the Dominicans in the Congress, which is ambitious, but the fact is, Jackie Robinson was a star before he reached the major leagues. And he’s not a Jackie Robinson.

Of course, the 84-year old Rangel has practiced his own version of Dominican politics. From a posting that appeared on this website on August 10, 2010:

NLPC yesterday filed a formal Complaint with the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the House Ethics Committee. Click here

Rangel Campaign Manager Set Up Fake Charity

Rasheida SmithThe axiom that “all that rises must converge” is upside down in New York State where all that falls is now converging. According to the New York Post, Rep. Charles Rangel’s campaign manager helped incorporate a nonprofit group that was plundered by New York City Councilman Ruben Wills, who was arrested last week. From the article:

Rasheida Smith, a longtime southeast Queens Democratic operative, is listed on the incorporation papers of New York 4 Life, the group that state authorities say Wills looted for more than $30,000 to buy such luxuries as a $750 Louis Vuitton handbag.

The group was the recipient of $33,000 in taxpayer funds in the form of “members items,” the New York equivalent of earmarks, arranged by former Senator Shirley Huntley, who is now incarcerated for stealing $87,000 from another nonprofit group called the Parents Workshop. Wills served as Huntley’s chief of staff at the …

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