Boehner, Pelosi both throw support behind party members with ethics issues

At separate events this weekend House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Speaker John Boehner are each throwing their support behind lawmakers in their party who are enmeshed in ethics troubles.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) is scheduled to officially endorse Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) on Saturday in Chicago, his campaign announced. The House Ethics Committee is investigating at least two allegations against Jackson.

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More than 1,000 miles away in Florida on the same day, Boehner (R-Ohio) is slated to appear next to Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) at a fundraiser. The House Ethics Committee, the FBI, and the IRS are investigating Buchanan over several allegations, including one that he allegedly lied on financial disclosure documents.

The appearances by the Republican and Democratic leaders are a clear signal that the charges of ethical misconduct have not reached levels they consider to be politically toxic.

In past election cycles ethics issues have been a cornerstone both parties' platforms. And in their fight to take over the majority, Democrats and Republicans have been careful to distance themselves from ethically questionable members who might leave them open to potential attacks.

Pelosi’s endorsement of Jackson comes on the heels of President Obama’s and several other top Democrats’.

In less than three weeks Jackson faces a heated primary against former Democratic Rep. Debbie Halvorson (Ill.), who has frequently attempted to paint Jackson as corrupt by pointing to the House Ethics Committee’s investigation of the Chicago lawmaker.

Top lawmakers typically endorse their incumbent colleagues over challengers from the same party. An exception to that trend occasionally occurs when an incumbent member is facing ethics troubles and members don’t want to be associated with them.

Boehner has been catching heat from Democrats over his planned appearance with Buchanan because the Florida lawmaker, who serves as finance vice chairman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), has been the center of a steady stream of ethical woes.

The myriad of allegations against Buchanan increased last week when a New York Times article revealed that a federal grand jury in Florida is hearing evidence about the straw-donor issue, and that FBI and IRS agents have contacted his former employees.

The heightened pressure has spurred questions about whether the NRCC and House Republicans will distance themselves from the three-term congressman until the issues are resolved. But Boehner’s appearance at Saturday’s event shows a clear sign of support for Buchanan.

Democratic support for Jackson hasn’t wavered either. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) threw a fundraiser for Jackson last month in Washington D.C., where Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) firmly stated the DCCC’s endorsement of him.

The DCCC has been waging a public relations campaign against Buchanan, calling attention to the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) investigation of him over allegations that he was involved in a straw-donor scheme that reimbursed employees at a car dealership he once owned.

“Republicans have a campaign finance chairman who uses potentially illegal campaign finance tactics and is facing federal investigations but all Speaker Boehner wants is to fundraise off congressman Buchanan’s network,” said DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson in a statement ahead of Saturday’s Republican fundraiser.

Employees of the dealership donated to Buchanan's campaign, and the Justice Department is believed to be still investigating the incident. The FEC ultimately dropped the matter, though it hit him with a separate fine in January over campaign paperwork errors.

Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee revealed in February it is investigating whether Buchanan violated federal law and House rules by failing to report positions in 17 entities in his required financial disclosures.

The fundraiser for Buchanan this weekend is being organized by Boehner for Speaker, a joint fundraising committee that includes the NRCC, Ohio Republicans and Friends of John Boehner political action committee.

Jackson’s event is being organized by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a non-profit group founded in part by Jackson’s father, Rev. Jesse Jackson.

For more than two years, the House Ethics Committee deferred its consideration of the allegations that Jackson used public resources to promote his appointment for the seat while the Justice Department completed its investigation of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who was convicted last year on 17 of the 20 corruption charges — centering on his attempt to sell the Senate seat for which he was tasked with appointing a successor.

In December, the ethics panel voted to continue its probe of Jackson’s involvement in the scandal, though it did not move to impanel an investigative subcommittee and formally investigate the lawmaker.

At the time of the ethics panel’s decision to continue the probe, a report by the Office of Congressional Ethics was released, stating that there was “probable cause” that Jackson may have offered to buy the seat.

Additionally Jackson told the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board earlier this month that the ethics committee may also be looking into his role in the purchase of a plane ticket by one of his campaign donor’s for a woman Jackson was having an extramarital affair with years ago.

Both Buchanan and Jackson have maintained their innocence all along on both matters.