Watchdog group calls on Reps. Emerson, Shuler to step aside

An ethics watchdog group is calling on Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) to either resign or recuse themselves from voting because of their future lobbying jobs.

In letters sent to Emerson and Shuler on Friday, the Campaign Legal Center said their votes on possible legislation to resolve the “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and budget cuts that will go into effect early next year will affect their future jobs in the energy sector, requiring them to recuse themselves from voting on any deal.

“Given that almost any action you may take in your official capacity until that time will likely affect the interests of the energy sector, the Campaign Legal Center urges you to consider immediately resigning your position,” said the letters, signed by J. Gerald Hebert, the group’s executive director and director of litigation, and Meredith McGehee, the group’s policy director.

“Should you choose not to resign, you should, at a minimum, recuse yourself from all official matters relating to the issues of energy and the environment, including votes regarding broad fiscal matters, such as legislation addressing the ‘fiscal cliff.’”

Shuler is taking a job at Duke Energy as its senior vice president of federal affairs, starting in January. Emerson will be the new CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, starting in March. In their letters to the lawmakers, the watchdog said accepting these positions “raises significant potential conflicts of interest and certainly creates the appearance of such conflicts.”

Emerson has already recused herself from at least one vote on an energy bill this Congress. Lawmakers who have taken or are negotiating for jobs outside of Congress need to tread carefully because ethics rules require that they recuse themselves from official actions that could affect their personal financial interests.

Ethics experts say lawmakers with outside jobs should be wary of voting on or adding provisions that could affect specific companies or industries that could be attached to a fiscal cliff bill.

“Landing lucrative jobs based on lobbying former colleagues sadly has a long tradition in Washington. But at the very least Members leaving public service to cash in through the revolving door should not be in the business of serving two masters while still holding office,” McGehee said in a statement.

A spokesman for Emerson said she has recused herself from any action that could be a conflict of interest.

“The congresswoman has recused herself from any official action in which there is a conflict of interest, pursuant to the rules of the House,” said Jeffrey Connor, the Emerson spokesman.

Connor noted that Emerson filed a notification that she was negotiating for an outside job, which is publicly available in the House’s Legislative Resource Center.

Messages left with Shuler’s office were not returned.

--This report was originally published at 2:17 p.m. and last updated at 2:43 p.m.