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Ethics Committee Sees Nothing Wrong With Mixing Campaigning and Legislating

February 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Last year, the independent, non-partisan Office of Congressional Ethics asked the House Ethics Committee to look into some fishy fundraising activity by three congressmen — Rep. Joseph Crowley [D, NY-7], Rep. John Campbell [R, CA-48] and Rep. Tom Price [R, GA-6]. The allegation was that they held an unusually high number of campaign fundraising events with Wall Street types in the days leading up to the vote on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and that this may amount to soliciting funds “in a manner which gave the appearance that special treatment or access was being provided to donors or the appearance that the contributions were linked to an official act.”

Well, the Ethics Committee has issued their findings, and though they found that staff members were involved in fundraising and fundraising consultants were involved in setting up lobbyist meetings, they didn’t see anything wrong with any of it.

According to Roll Call, the report found evidence that fundraisers for the congressmens’ political campaigns were aggressive about offering up lobbying sessions with their client:

For example, the committee report includes e-mails from Crowley’s fundraising consultant thanking a financial industry lobbyist “for helping out Crowley for Congress and JOE PAC” and offering times and dates when the Congressman is available for a one-on-one meeting. Similarly, a fundraiser for Campbell sent an e-mail to a corporate donor asking for a contribution and noting that “Congressman Campbell wanted me to see if you are available to do a 1-on-1 coffee or lunch with him. He prefers these to big events. Is there any way you can do $1k or even $500 to help him out?”

The invitation included a broad window of times the Congressman would be available during two weeks Congress was in session.

They also found that congressional staff were involved in fundraising:

In each of the cases the Ethics Committee report examines in detail, the Member’s chief of staff is the point person for the fundraising consultants and staff members appear to be regular participants in the fundraising activities. But the offices all contended that the contact between the chief of staff and the fundraiser involved only the scheduling of events and the Member’s time.

Price’s and Crowley’s offices declined to discuss the Ethics Committee report with Roll Call, but the three Members defended their activities that were included in the report.

For example, Price’s chief of staff told OCE that he regularly attends Price’s fundraisers and occasionally has contacted donors to ask for contributions, but all on his personal time as a volunteer. A summary of his interview with the OCE says the staffer “has solicited individuals in person and over email. The Congressman does not instruct the witness as to who to solicit. The witness attends pretty much all of Representative Price’s fundraisers held in Washington, DC. His role at the fundraisers is mostly just to drive. The Congressman has never asked the witness to attend a fundraiser.”

Price’s lawyer said in a letter to the OCE that the staffer attends the events “for the limited purpose of staffing Representative Price.”

Despite all this, allallegatios against the congressmen were dismissed.

I think just about everyone who’s not a lobbyist or a member of Congress can agree that there appears to have been an insufficient separation between campaign work and legislative work in these cases. Clearly, Congress has a very limited imagination when it comes to ethics. They have a rule against using official letterhead for non-official activity, so Charlie Rangel [D, NY-15] gets busted for doing so. Fair enough. But if there’s not an incredibly specific rule against it — even if it smacks of unfair access and implies quid pro quo — it’s okay. The system is not capable of policing itself, and this is why the electorate needs real-time access to lobbying records, campaign finance information and legislative data.

Rep. Price is pictured above, center.

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