Reps. Flake, Hodes demand more papers from ethics panel on PMA investigation

Reps. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donating unused campaign funds to Arizona nonprofit focused on elections: report Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report MORE (R-Ariz.) and Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) still want more documents related to the now closed ethics committee’s investigation into seven lawmakers’ ties to PMA Group, a now-defunct lobbying firm under investigation by the FBI.

The two lawmakers are frustrated by the ethics committee’s refusal to detail aspects of its probe, including how many witnesses were interviewed and subpoenaed.

They are asking the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), a board made up of mainly former lawmakers that makes recommendations to the ethics committee for further review, to release 250,000 documents it submitted to the ethics panel when it concluded its initial investigation. Flake and Hodes believe the release of these documents would spur the House to change its rules governing the appropriateness of awarding earmarks to campaign contributors.

“Given that the committee’s PMA report conceded that there is a widespread perception of a quid pro quo between earmarks and campaign contributions, it was particularly troubling that the committee would assert that it does not have jurisdiction to institute changes in House practices,” Flake said in a statement. “Let’s not forget that the Ethics committee’s real name is the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.  If the committee won’t even set a minimum standard for House practices, who will?”

“There are still far too many questions about the alleged pay-for-play earmark scheme involving Members of Congress and Washington lobbyists,” said Hodes.  “It is simply unacceptable that we still do not know whether these very serious allegations were investigated to the fullest. We need to hold politicians feet to the fire and hold them accountable for how they spend our tax dollars.”

The OCE typically does not comment on investigations and did notvimmediately respond to a request for comment.

The ethics panel on Monday night issued a statement explaining the context of its PMA probe in response to a flurry of resolutions sponsored by Flake over the last few months that demanded to know why the committee had closed its case without finding any rules violations.

Flake used privileged resolutions, a parliamentary maneuver, to force the ethics committee to explain its actions. The House did not vote in favor of the resolutions, instead referring them to the ethics committee for consideration in votes along party lines.

The panel defended the five-page report it previously issued on the PMA matter and said it could consider reopening the cases if new information came to light.

“The committee’s action to date does not preclude further action related to these matters should new information warranting action become available,” it concluded in a statement issued by Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and ranking member Jo Bonner (R-Ala.).

The ethics committee exonerated seven House members, many of whom sit on the Appropriations Defense subcommittee, of any wrongdoing earlier this year. The panel dismissed allegations that the members used their influence on the Appropriations Committee to help PMA clients win tens of millions of dollars' worth of earmarks in return for campaign contributions from PMA Group lobbyists and their clients.

PMA shuttered its offices late last year following an FBI raid. The lobbying group had close ties to the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the subcommittee on defense spending in the House.

The ethics panel cleared Murtha, as well as Reps. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Jim MoranJames (Jim) Patrick MoranThe Hill's Top Lobbyists 2020 Lawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show Star-studded cast to perform play based on Mueller report MORE (D-Va.), Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.).

The OCE previously cleared five of the seven members, but recommended further review of Vicslosky’s and Tiahrt’s activities. Visclosky and his chief of staff remain under FBI investigation.

After the ethics committee dismissed the allegations against all seven members, watchdogs questioned whether the ethics committee had thoroughly reviewed the matter.

In its statement Monday, the panel said it had reviewed close to a quarter of a million documents, in an investigation covering more than 40 companies with ties to PMA, and interviews with 32 member offices, although members were not subject to direct in-person inquiries.

“In reaching its conclusions, the committee relied on the totality of this large magnitude of information,” Lofgren and Bonner said in the statement.

They also appeared to address criticism that the report was only five pages by arguing that they would harm future ethics investigations by describing their methods and actions in the PMA probe.

“As in other investigations, although the committee has discussed in general terms the scope of its investigation, it did not address specific details of various investigative steps taken by the committee,” they said. “To do so would compromise the investigative
capabilities of the committee in this and future matters by chilling voluntary cooperation.”

The panel, however, has issued extensively detailed reports in the recent past. Its Feb. 26 report admonishing Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y) for taking a corporate-sponsored trip to the Caribbean was more than 200 pages, excluding exhibits and appendices.