Flake wants tighter financial interest rules

The House's most ardent opponent of earmarks wants to prohibit members from accepting campaign contributions from earmark recipients.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has asked the House Ethics committee to deem political contributions a "financial interest." Under House rules, lawmakers cannot submit earmarks if they have a financial interest in the business benefiting from the earmark.

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Flake laid out his views in a letter and 10-page white paper to the ethics panel Wednesday. He argued  House ethics rules should be changed to address recent pay-to-play scandals involving earmarks and the tens of thousands of dollars lawmakers have received from entities receiving such funds.

"While certainly no one would assert that every member of Congress receiving a campaign contribution from an earmark recipient was doing so for the purpose of financial gain, the House of Representatives simply cannot continue to permit the appearance of impropriety associated with members providing no-bid or sole source federal contracts to campaign contributors," he wrote in his letter.

House rules now require members submitting earmark requests to certify that they have no financial interest in the businesses receiving them. The House ethics manual does not regard contributions to a member's campaign committee or leadership PAC a "financial interest."

In the past three months, Flake has offered eight resolutions to force the ethics committee to investigate contributions from the now-defunct lobbying group PMA, its clients and the lawmakers who have directed earmarks to those clients.

But he held off bringing the measure up on the House floor for a ninth time last week after a Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) offered a separate resolution on PMA. Hoyer's measure called on Ethics to disclose whether it has launched an investigation into PMA within 45 days. That measure passed on a mainly party-line vote, though twenty-seven Republicans voted with the Democratic majority.

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Flake seemed skeptical over whether the vote would lead to an investigation by the ethics panel. He said he would wait to see if ethics investigations PMA, or whether it defers to the FBI and the Justice Department. If it appears as if the panel¹s members are dragging their feet, Flake pledged to offer his resolution again.

In the meantime, Flake would like the committee to consider revising its financial interest rules, which he said would make them consistent with the ethical responsibilities of members and federal and state guidelines to prevent the appearance of pay-to-play politics.

"The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct need not and should not sit idle, awaiting the outcome of Justice Department investigations, before addressing an obvious issue that is tarnishing the dignity of the House," he wrote.