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Ethics Committee reviewing Rep. Sanford Bishop's campaign spending

Ethics Committee reviewing Rep. Sanford Bishop's campaign spending
© Greg Nash

The House Ethics Committee said Tuesday that it is extending a review into Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), the first time it has publicly acknowledged it is looking into whether he violated ethics rules.

Bishop's office said that the matter is related to the lawmaker's campaign disbursement reports, but did not specify the allegations.

"The Congressman is cooperating fully in this matter in an open and transparent way. This includes conducting a thorough review of his campaign finance reports to identify all necessary corrective steps to resolve this matter in a timely fashion," Bishop's office said in a statement.

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"The Congressman takes ethical issues very seriously and has always been committed to complying with all campaign finance regulations and standards of conduct," his office added.

House Ethics Committee Chairman Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Matt Gaetz, Roger Stone back far-right activist Laura Loomer in congressional bid MORE (D-Fla.) and Rep. Kenny MarchantKenny Ewell MarchantRepublican Van Duyne wins race for Texas House seat Cook Political Report shifts 8 more House races toward Democrats Democrats seek wave to bolster House majority MORE (Texas), the panel's top Republican, said in a joint statement that the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) had made a referral regarding Bishop in February.

The OCE, a nonpartisan independent watchdog, refers allegations to the House panel if it finds substantial reason to believe that a lawmaker violated the chamber's rules. But only the Ethics Committee has the ability to discipline members if it confirms that misconduct occurred.

The Ethics Committee's statement Tuesday did not specify the allegations involving Bishop, only saying that the review would be extended further.

"The committee notes that the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension and the name of the subject of the matter, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee," the statement read.

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Within 45 days after receiving a referral from OCE, the House Ethics Committee is required to either make the OCE report public or vote to extend a review of the matter for another 45 days but release a public statement.

Disclosure of an OCE report can be further delayed if the Ethics Committee decides to open a formal investigation into a lawmaker's alleged misconduct. But the OCE report must be disclosed by the end of the investigation.

Bishop co-sponsored a resolution in 2010 that would have limited public disclosure of OCE reports and require the OCE to seal records regarding cases that are dismissed by the Ethics Committee.

The measure ultimately went nowhere. But the resolution's primary sponsor, Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeDangerously fast slaughter speeds are putting animals, people at greater risk during COVID-19 crisis Clyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Kerry says Paris climate deal alone 'is not enough' | EPA halts planned Taiwan trip for Wheeler| EPA sued over rule extending life of toxic coal ash ponds MORE (D-Ohio), said at the time that the proposal would bring Congress "in line with America’s judicial system by creating a process truly free of politics, avoiding trials in the court of public opinion, and stopping the premature release of reports."

A spokesman for Bishop at the time defended the lawmaker's decision to co-sponsor the resolution, arguing that the existing process was "resulting in members of Congress being tried in the court of public opinion and convicted by the media before allegations of misconduct were proven or found to be without merit."