Reports: OCE Probe Focused On Fundraisers, Auto Dealer Exemption

The House Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into eight lawmakers is focusing on fundraisers held in the two days before the final vote on financial reform legislation, according to news reports.

According to The Hill, the OCE is specifically looking into a fundraiser held for Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) two days before he pulled an amendment that could have hurt certain auto dealers.A Washington Post story on the investigation reports that the OCE is looking into fundraisers held by seven of the eight members at about the same time. It was revealed this week that the OCE sent letters to lobbyists requesting detailed information about their dealings with eight lawmakers who serve on the financial services and ways and means committees.

Watt held a fundraiser at DNC headquarters on Dec. 9. As The Hill reports, he received contributions from several financial services companies in December, including companies that offer auto financing. The fundraiser invitation mentions that Watt sits on the financial services and judiciary committees.

It should be noted that Watt, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is a co-sponsor of a bill that would strip the OCE of much of its power.

Watt’s amendment would have placed franchised auto dealers who offer in-house financing for customers under the purview of the Consumer Financial Protection Board. Auto dealers, including powerful associations for dealers of international and domestic cars, fought hard against the exemption, saying it was “bad business.”

He pulled the amendment on Dec. 11.

Watt said in a statement that he is “fully confident” that the investigation will find no violations. He also said it’s “unfortunate” the investigation had been leaked, because “that could leave the impression that there has been some impropriety.” A spokesman for Watt declined to comment further to TPM.

The Post reports that other lawmakers being investigated also held fundraisers in the two days before the financial reform vote. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), for example, held a fundraiser hosted by lobbyists with financial services clients the day before the vote. A partner with the lobbying firm (and former Pomeroy staffer) told the Post that the fundraiser had been planned for weeks, before the date of the vote was known.

The House ethics manual says that, while there is “probably” nothing wrong in accepting campaign contributions from those “for whom the legislator has done appreciable
favors,” lawmakers should beware the timing of such contributions.

“A decent interval of time should be allowed to lapse so that neither party will feel that there is a close connection between the two acts,” the manual says.

In addition to Watt and Pomeroy, the OCE is looking into Reps. John Campbell (R-CA), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Christopher Lee (R-NY), Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Tom Price (R-GA).

An OCE spokesman declined to comment.

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