House Ethics Office Launches Six New Probes

April 25, 2011 1:24 pm

The House’s independent ethics office launched six new investigations of lawmakers’ potential ethical misbehavior in this first quarter of the year.

The Office of Congressional Ethics released its end-of-quarter report Monday as required by law, noting that it had commenced six preliminary reviews and five secondary reviews of allegations already under investigation. It also voted to terminate one review.

The office does not release the names of lawmakers under scrutiny, but the name of one of the lawmakers, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), leaked earlier this year.The ethics office is looking into whether Schmidt violated House rules by accepting legal assistance from a Turkish-American interest group that has represented her in a host of proceedings in Ohio, according to a report in Roll Call.

A member of Congress may only accept pro bono legal services under certain circumstances, such as the filing of friend-of-the-court briefs or civil actions challenging the validity of a federal law or regulation, according to the House Ethics Manual.

The OCE’s activity is comparable with the first quarter of the last new Congress, in 2009 just after it was first formed. After the OCE was created and set up in 2008, it launched investigations into the activities of six members in the first quarter of 2009. The second second session of the last Congress, however, was much more active with the OCE looking into 23 members in early 2010.

The OCE, which was created in 2008 to help the House better police its peers, has been the subject of repeated criticism from lawmakers who complain about the unprecedented ethics scrutiny it has imposed. Watchdogs thought the incoming GOP majority would target it for elimination or severely weaken it when they took control in January. But Republicans have so far resisted doing so, realizing that dismantling it in any way would only lead to criticism that they are weakening ethics standards.

The OCE’s first quarter report also shows that the office is not slowing down its activity under the leadership of a new staff director, Omar Ashmawy, who moved up from his position of deputy director in late January after the first staff director, Leo Wise, left late last year.

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