Ethics panel’s slow pace on probes has lawmakers fuming

House lawmakers implicated in a secret ethics panel document are pressuring the committee to conclude their cases as quickly as possible.

Several lawmakers interviewed by The Hill say they have cooperated fully with the panel and are frustrated with it for allowing the sensitive document to be leaked to the press and for not acting more quickly in reviewing charges.

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“I gave them three big books of information — proprietary, private information — and I heard nothing back. Not a peep, and now this?” fumed Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.), who has seen charges from four years ago resurface in the document.

“To say that I am angry is a vast understatement,” he said.

He and other lawmakers are urging the panel to wrap up its work and let them know as quickly as possible whether they have broken any ethics rules.

In two other cases, lawmakers have publicized notification letters from the ethics panel that they are not under investigation. Those letters have caused alarm among watchdogs, because the ethics committee’s work is supposed to be free of any intervention or meddling by members.

The ethics committee declined to comment for this story.

Miller is incensed his name appeared on a list of members whose activities are under committee review. The document, which first landed in the hands of

The Washington Post, said ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and ranking Republican Jo Bonner (Ala.) had approved an investigation into land dealings involving Miller and had assigned a staff attorney to the case in late July.

Miller called for the panel to review the matter when it first surfaced in news stories five years ago. He said he even gave the panel three binders of documents about his real estate deals of his own volition.

He never heard back from the committee, he said, and is very angry that the story is back in the news.

The news accounts published four years ago accused Miller of using his position to help a business partner and campaign contributor get access to prime pieces of land and of improperly taking out a $7.4 million promissory note from the same business partner.

Miller approached Lofgren on the floor and was told it was a low-level review, he said.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) also has yet to hear back from the ethics committee about the status of an alleged investigation into her ties to the now-defunct PMA Group, a once-powerful lobbying firm the Justice Department is investigating.

PMA Group has donated $26,500 to Kaptur’s campaignws since 2006, and the congresswoman has helped steer $8.4 million in federal earmarks to its clients.

Kaptur said she has cooperated fully with the probe and never felt she was a target.

A Kaptur spokesman has said investigators for the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) had interviewed Kaptur as well as staffers as part of a larger investigation into whether she and six other members of a subcommittee that handles defense spending violated House rules by steering millions of dollars in contracts to companies that hired PMA.

She has talked with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and has requested a full briefing about how the secret document became public, but she is still waiting to hear back from Pelosi as well as the ethics committee.

“I have received no assurances and I am still waiting for them,” she said.

The ethics committee sent Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) a letter on Nov. 20 informing him that he was not under investigation. Reyes quickly publicized the letter, which said the House Intelligence Committee chairman was not being probed for his involvement in the release of a kidnapping victim related to his wife.

When asked if he thought the ethics committee had tried to react quickly to his request, Reyes said, “Not as quickly as my chief of staff wanted them to.

“We feel like there was nothing to this, and [the ethics committee] has a lot of important work to do,” he said. “But we wanted to make sure that it didn’t get picked up in the local press, because then there would be this cloud hanging over our head that would be hard to get rid of.”

The Friends of Border Patrol had submitted a complaint last year asking the committee to investigate the role Reyes’s office played in securing Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help win the release of the relative, who was kidnapped in Juarez, Mexico. The relative was released unharmed after her family paid a ransom to the kidnappers.

Reyes was one of dozens of House members whose name appeared in the ethics document reported by the Post.

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n early November, the ethics panel informed Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) that he has been cleared and is no longer under investigation for allegations that a real estate development in which he invested received preferential treatment from a government agency. Shuler’s name also appeared in the leaked ethics document.

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s inspector general had looked into his investment in a development called the Cover at Blackberry Ridge, near Knoxville.

The ethics committee cited the IG investigation in its letter to Shuler, noting that it “could not find any evidence that you violated any ethics rules.” After its own “thorough review” of the matter, the committee said it “has determined that your actions in these matters were not improper in any way and did not violate House rules.”

Shuler also hailed the ethics committee’s finding in a press release.