Boehner faces ethics dilemma over probe of Rep. Bachus

An ethics investigation of Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) has put Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a politically tricky spot.

Years ago as minority leader, Boehner called on Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to relinquish his Ways and Means Committee chairmanship during a high-profile ethics investigation.

Now, new allegations of insider trading against Bachus present Boehner with a tough choice: Call for Bachus to step down as chairman of the Financial Services Committee as an ethics panel investigates him, stand by him, or wait until the probe is completed.

ADVERTISEMENT
Bachus has denied he violated insider-trading laws, an allegation which is being investigated by the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).

Boehner’s office gave no indication on Friday that the Speaker is planning to ask Bachus to step down from his chairmanship. The Speaker’s spokesman balked at the comparison to Rangel.

“The situations are not remotely comparable,” said Michael Steel.

Boehner pledged to run an ethically clean chamber after the GOP reclaimed the House majority in January of 2011. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), meanwhile, has touted the House GOP’s “zero-level tolerance” policy on ethics.

Asked about the Bachus probe, Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon said, “Leader Cantor isn’t aware of any investigation and we have no information on the reports you reference, but if we are made aware of an investigation or the Committee notifies us of violations, of course there will be a response.”

Democrats are likely to pounce on the Bachus allegations while noting that there have been other Republican controversies brewing over the past year.

Rangel was at the center of Democrats’ ethics troubles while they last held the House majority in 2009 and 2010. The veteran New York lawmaker was under investigation by the Ethics Committee, which eventually found him guilty of 11 counts of violating House rules.

Bachus, on the other hand, is being investigated by the OCE, which can only make recommendations to the House Ethics Committee.

Amid Rangel’s ethics woes, Boehner called on then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to ask him to step down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

“During this time of economic crisis, it is not in our nation’s best interest to have the chairman of the House’s powerful tax-writing committee under investigation for unethical conduct related to his failure to comply with tax laws,” said Boehner in a statement in 2008 following the launch of the ethics panel’s investigation.

“The American people deserve better than that, and I renew my call for Speaker Pelosi to ask Chairman Rangel to step aside from his post while the investigation proceeds.” 

Boehner later put forward a privileged resolution calling on Rangel to step down and again made the push in 2009. Ultimately, in early 2010, Rangel stepped down from the chairmanship. 

Bachus was one of several lawmakers at the center of a CBS “60 Minutes” report in November that accused top lawmakers — including Boehner and Pelosi — of using information from their dealings on Capitol Hill to shape their stock portfolios. All have denied wrongdoing. 

On Thursday night, The Washington Post reported that the OCE has been looking into whether Bachus violated Securities and Exchange Commission rules that prohibit lawmakers from buying or trading stock based on information they glean from their jobs, as well as whether he broke any House rules that bar members from using their office for private gain. 

While no lawmakers have called on Bachus to step down from his chairmanship or office, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart has previously called on Bachus to resign from Congress.

Spokespeople for Pelosi and Rangel declined to comment and a spokesman for Bachus did not return a request for comment.

Under the House GOP’s term-limit rule, Bachus is in his last year as the top-ranking Republican on the Financial Services Committee.

The allegations against Bachus come just after the House and Senate, spurred by the “60 Minutes” report, approved legislation — the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act — intended to tighten rules on insider trading by lawmakers.

Bachus last year had planned to mark up a House Democratic version of the STOCK Act, but that effort was thwarted by Cantor. The majority leader subsequently offered a bill that was criticized by some House Democrats and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa.). However, only two House members opposed it this week. House and Senate lawmakers are expected to meet soon to iron out a final bill.