The House Ethics Committee let three members of Congress skirt further ethics inquires on their cozy relationships with financial lobbyists because, in short, everybody does it.
But what about the timing of the fundraisers, some of which were held the day before the final Financial Reform Bill vote in December 2009? Top ethics officials in the House of Representatives say the timing of the events was just “happenstance.”Ethics watchdogs can thank former House Speaker Tom DeLay (R-TX) for setting the standard so low when it comes to actions which give the “appearance of impropriety.”
DeLay was admonished by the House Ethics Committee because he held a June 2002 fundraiser which created the appearance that donors at the fundraiser were being provided with special access to DeLay in his official capacity regarding then-pending energy legislation. The panel chastised DeLay for helping facilitate a two-day golf fund-raiser hosted by an energy company, which ”created an appearance that donors were being provided special access to you regarding the then-pending energy legislation.”
But unlike in the DeLay matter, the House Ethics Committee wrote, “none of the three Members occupied such a senior leadership position.”
“Further, even if there were potential appearance issues regarding the timing of the fundraising events at issue, the nature and duration of these events were dramatically different from the DeLay matter and exhibited no characteristics of special access,” they added.
Here’s a break down of the evidence that the more independent Office of Congressional Ethics referred to the House Ethics Committee in the cases of three members of Congress.
Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY)
The days leading up to the final vote on the Financial Reform Bill were cash-cows for Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY).
The report notes that Crowley, as a member of the Ways and Means Committee, had significant influence over the outcome of the Financial Reform Bill. He authored two amendments and, as Chair of the New Democrat Coalition, negotiated with House Democratic leadership on amendments.
In the nine-day period between when the bill was reported out of the Committee on Financial Services and when it was brought to a final vote — a crucial window where last minute amendments are negotiated — Representative Crowley held four fundraising events where he raked in the dough from representatives of financial institutions.
The day before the final vote, Crowley held two fundraising events. The first was a cocktail hour hosted at the home of lobbyist Julie Domenick. Of the 42 guests, 31 were lobbyists for the Financial Reform Bill. With a suggested donation of $500 for personal, $1000 for a PAC, Crowley raised $50,000 from that one event.
After cocktails, Crowley then went to a fundraising dinner with thirteen attendees — all of whom were lobbyists for the Financial Reform Bill. With the cost to attend that event $2500 for PAC and $1000 for personal contributors, Crowley brought in between $13,000 to $32,500 at dinner.
Emails from Crowley’s campaign staff show that he specifically solicited campaign contributions from companies registered to lobby for the bill.
In one email from Crowley’s fundraiser, a Morgan Stanley employee is encouraged to attend the cocktail event occurring a day before the final vote. “Anything you can do for Crowley for Congress before the end of the year would be VERY helpful and appreciated!”
Nine days later, in an email to Crowley’s Chief of Staff, the same Morgan Stanley employee expressed concern about the “market stifling” Lynch amendment. Crowley’s Chief of Staff responded that they were also concerned about it and had spoken to leadership.
Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)
The day before the final vote, an fundraising consultant for Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), a member of the Financial Services Committee, solicited donations at a ”Financial Services Industry Luncheon.” The event organizer worked hand-in-hand with a Bank of America employee to write the invite list. “Thanks so much for helping round up your colleagues for this event, I really think we are going to hit it out of the park!!” the organizer wrote in an email to the banker.
When the organizer failed to hear back from some financial institutions, she asked the Bank of America employee if he could help. “These folks were huge for Price last year and I haven’t received an answer from them on this lunch… HSBC, Wachovia, Morgan Stanley, Checkfree, American Financial Services Association, Mutual of Omaha,” she wrote. The Bank of America employee offered to call and follow up with them.
Thirteen of the 16 individuals who attended the event were lobbyists for the bill. The fundraising event, held at the Capitol Hill Club in D.C., had an admission price of a $1000 PAC donation or $500 personal donation.
During the markup of the Financial Reform Bill in the House Financial Services Committee, Representative Price introduced approximately eight amendments. Following the markup, he offered six amendments to the Rules Committee.
That wasn’t important, according to the House Ethics Committee.
“It is unremarkable that individuals associated with financial services organizations would be interested in attending or informing their colleagues about an event where the main speaker was the Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee,” they wrote.
Rep. John Campbell (R-CA)
Fundraisers working for Rep. John Campbell, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, asked representatives from Bank of America, Chubb Corporation, MasterCard, and New York Life if they’d like to have one-on-one meetings with Campbell — and give campaign donations — while the House considered the financial reform bill.
In one example, Campbell’s fundraising consultant offered an employee of the National Asocial of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) a one-on-one meeting with Campbell, while also soliciting a donation.
“I wanted to see if there is any way National Assn of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) can help out Congressman John Campbell before the end of the quarter. We really appreciated your generous support last cycle. Congressman Campbell wanted me to see if you are available to do a 1-1 coffee or lunch with him. Is there any way you can do $1k or even $500 to help him out?” reads the email.
Campbell also held a ”Financial Services Dinner” in October 2009, one day before a markup of the Financial Reform Bill. The timing seemed off to one invitee, a KPMG employee, who responded to the “high” importance email invitation with this one-liner: “Is it wrong for me to reply and say that’s not such a good night given that we have this crucial piece of legislation being marked up the next day.”
Like Price and Crowley, Campbell also held multiple fundraising events in the days before the final vote. On December 9, two days before the final vote, he held two events — one with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor — with financial services lobbyists.
The report concluded that it was “unremarkable” for Campbell to hold an event attended solely by individuals associated with the financial services industry, “given that the financial services industry is the largest overall industry in his district.”
During the markup of the Financial Reform Bill, Campbell authored six amendments and following markup, he offered three amendments for consideration to the Rules Committee.