Ethics panel dismisses allegations against two House members

The House Ethics Committee announced on Friday that it had dismissed allegations against Reps. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).

The panel also found that Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) was not guilty of accepting an improper loan in 2010. But it announced a separate investigation into an allegation that Meeks failed to disclose a payment he had received in 2007.

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The announcements are the first major signs that the House Ethics Committee is close to fully staffed again after months of searching for a new staff director and chief counsel, and after nearly one-third of its staff left following an internal dispute over the direction of its investigation into Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

Last month, the committee said it had hired outside counsel Billy Martin to take over its investigation of Waters.

According to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), the charges against Schmidt revolved around approximately $500,000 in legal bills that the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA) paid for the lawmaker.

The Ethics Committee found that those allegations were true, but that Schmidt’s lawyers “failed to inform her of their payment arrangement with TCA, and made false and misleading statements to her about their relationship with TCA,” according to a statement.

The panel determined that Schmidt should repay the amount that TCA had given her lawyers and may not accept any future payments from TCA, but it did not advise the House to issue any sanctions against her.

Gutierrez was arrested for protesting in front of the White House last week. He was among a group of demonstrators who were advocating for the deferred deportation of certain illegal immigrants. The Ethics Committee found that his actions did not merit forming an investigative subcommittee. 

Separately, the Ethics Committee reprimanded Michael Collins, the chief of staff for Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), for violating House rules. The committee said that Collins failed to report $54,000 in outside earned income on financial disclosure records and federal tax returns. Collins was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and pay all necessary back taxes.

The committee also dismissed charges against Gregory Hill, chief of staff for Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). The committee found that Hill had received $5,450 more in compensation than is legally allowed for his work on McCaul‘s campaign in 2009. But the panel declined to recommend sanctions against Hill because it found that the staff member made valid attempts to remedy it and “has now satisfactorily disgorged himself of the excess income.”

-- This story was updated at 1:38 p.m.