High-power Dems facing ethics scrutiny

High-power Dems facing ethics scrutiny
© Greg Nash

Two high-power Democrats are facing scrutiny for possible ethics infractions, the House Ethics Committee announced Monday.

Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), are being reviewed by the panel at the recommendation of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent, bipartisan group that examines ethics complaints and forwards what it considers the most serious cases to the Ethics Committee.

Michael Collins, chief of staff to Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), is also under review, the House panel announced.

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As is typically the case, the Ethics Committee did not specify the allegations surrounding the three Democrats. But Luján has been the subject of complaints filed by the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a conservative watchdog group, alleging the DCCC chairman violated ethics rules by soliciting campaign donations following the Democrats’ sit-in on the House floor in June 2016 to protest Republican inaction on gun reform.

“They protested for TWENTY-SIX LONG HOURS, but Republicans refused to lift a finger,” read one DCCC solicitation at the time. “We need to get 21,673 more gifts in the door today to kick them out of office.”

In January, FACT filed a separate complaint against Lewis and Collins, alleging that Collins’s role as both Lewis’s chief of staff and campaign treasurer violated rules limiting outside employment by House staffers.

“Even in the limited instances where outside employment is allowed, the amount that can be earned is capped at $27,255,” FACT said at the time. “In this case, Collins was earning $27,495 as Lewis’ campaign treasurer, a prohibited salary for a prohibited position.”

Conyers’s office has been under OCE review over the last year surrounding allegations that a former staffer, Cynthia Martin, may have been paid during months when she was no longer employed by the office. In February, the OCE recommended that the Ethics Committee review whether Martin “accepted compensation that was not commensurate with the work she was performing.”

In a statement to The Washington Post, a Conyers spokesperson said the office “is cooperating with the Ethics Committee, and is confident that this matter can be swiftly resolved.”

The offices of Luján and Lewis provided similar statements.

In each case, the Ethics Committee noted that “the mere fact of a referral or an extension … does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”

The panel will decide by Aug. 9 whether to take further action in each case.