Ethics Committee reviewing Mullin's ties to family plumbing business

Freshman Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) may have violated House ethics rules for his continued involvement in his family's plumbing businesses, according to a review by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The House Ethics Committee said Friday it is extending its review into Mullin, which was first announced last month. His case had been largely a mystery due to the secretive nature of ethics probes.

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics (ECO) referred the case to the Ethics Committee in December. In the report, released publicly Monday, the OCE said there is "substantial reason to believe" Mullin violated House rules by receiving $600,000 in earned income from his family's five plumbing business last year, serving on the board of directors and appearing in ads promoting the company.

Mullin was defiant in a statement Monday. He said he consulted with the Ethics Committee about the issue before entering Congress and has followed the recommendations.

"We have followed those recommendations to the letter, even at significant expense to our company," he said in the statement.

House rules prohibit members from making more than $27,000 a year in outside "earned income" while serving in Congress. House rules also forbid members from serving on any corporate board for profit. They also advise against outside employment that would involve "the selling or endorsement of any goods or services."

In a letter addressing the allegations, Mullin's lawyer said none of the income he received from his plumbing business falls under "earned income" and it is specifically exempted in House rules. His lawyer also said the OCE report "grossly exaggerates" his $600,000 in income by misunderstanding a certain type of corporation.

Congress came up with rules barring members from holding outside jobs in an attempt to protect from potential conflicts of interest.

Mullin compared his situation to that of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in 2005, who had to give up his medical practice after being elected to the Senate due to similar rules in the Senate. He called himself a "citizen legislator."

"Apparently it’s acceptable for Members of Congress to own stock in companies we regulate in Congress, but somehow our plumbing company crosses some line. This is more of the kind of thing that leaves people scratching their heads and saying ‘only in the government,'" he said.

The Ethics Committee said its review does not imply wrongdoing and noted that it would make no further statements until the initial review is over.

According to committee rules, the committee will gather additional information “unless and until an investigative subcommittee has been established.” The chairman and ranking member of the committee can also choose to resolve the issue on their own.