Watchdog groups prod House ethics panel to start working

A group of ethics and campaign-finance watchdog groups has urged the House ethics committee to end its staffing stalemate and initiate investigations of seven House members.

The Congressional Ethics Coalition, whose members include the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics and the Democratic-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, chastised committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and ranking member Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) for failing to act this year on any of the myriad ethics issues that continue to roil the House.

“The committee has both the responsibility and opportunity to show the public that it takes seriously its institutional obligation to enforce the congressional ethics rules and hold members of Congress accountable for any ethics violations they may have committed,” the coalition wrote.

The cases singled out by the watchdog groups are bipartisan, though the letter notes former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) multiple indictments as a motivation for swift action.

In addition to DeLay’s relationship with indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the coalition asked Hastings and Mollohan to investigate Rep. Bob Ney’s (R-Ohio) ties to Abramoff; Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) business deals, already under federal scrutiny; Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s (R-Calif.) sale of his home at above-market value to a defense contractor, which already has prompted Cunningham to decide not to run for reelection; Rep. Jim McDermott’s (D-Wash.) release of taped phone calls to the media; charges that aides to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) did election work while on government time; and allegations that Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) used his office to benefit his daughter’s lobbying firm.

The coalition has been formally petitioning lawmakers since last year, but its efforts expanded in January amid the furor over House Republicans’ plan to reverse a rule requiring that indicted members relinquish their leadership positions. The rule was switched back into effect, forcing DeLay to resign his post as majority leader last week.

Elana Schor