Ethics panel extending probe of three lawmakers into the next Congress

The ethics committee has extended an investigation into the fundraising of three members in connection to their votes on the financial regulation law.

Ethics committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) jointly decided to continue the probe into the new year and the next Congress, according to a statement they issued late Wednesday. The committee will announce its course of action on the matter on or before Jan. 29.

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The panel has been looking into the fundraising practices of Reps. John Campbell (R-Calif.), Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) since early September. The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent board that conducts preliminary investigations, referred their cases to the ethics committee for further review. At the same time, the OCE dismissed cases against Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Chris Lee (R-N.Y.), Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) and Mel Watt (D-N.C.), according to their offices.

The ethics panel has 90 days to review any matter referred to it by the OCE. At the halfway point, it is required to announce if it is using the full 90 days it has to review the matter. It took that step on Wednesday.

In May, the OCE launched a probe into the fundraising activities of all eight members to determine whether there were any links to their votes on the Wall Street reform bill.

Most OCE investigations are conducted in secret. In mid-June, the probe became public after The Hill obtained a letter from the OCE to lobbyists asking for fundraising information on the five Republicans and three Democrats who are members of the Financial Services or Ways and Means committees.

The probe was controversial and led to increased criticism that the relatively new OCE was leading witch-hunts against members. All members targeted have denied any wrongdoing and expressed confusion over why the OCE had looked into their fundraising practices to begin with.

The OCE investigation began in late May and advanced from a preliminary review to a second stage in late June, allowing 45 more days and a possible 14-day extension for completion. In order to reach the second stage, the OCE had to determine there was probable cause to believe the allegations were true.

In order for the OCE to recommend further investigation by the ethics committee, the OCE must determine there is a “substantial reason to believe the allegations” against a lawmaker.

Not one House Republican voted for the financial-services bill, which was passed Dec. 11. Price and Campbell have denied any suggestion their votes were tied to fundraisers that their campaigns held in the week leading up to the December vote.

All three of the lawmakers still under ethics committee scrutiny held fundraisers within one day of the vote on the financial-services overhaul.

This story was updated at 10:39 p.m.