2010 a busy year for House ethics probes

Aug. 16, 2010 at 8:08 AM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Ethics inquiries in the U.S. Congress rose in the past year, bringing charges of misconduct to the fore just ahead of midterm elections, a review indicates.

During the first six months of 2010, the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent congressional watchdog panel, began 44 ethics investigations, up from 24 during the same period in 2009, USA Today reported Monday. The office recommended the House ethics committee pursue action against 13 lawmakers.

Trials for two prominent House Democrats -- Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California -- are expected to begin a couple of months before the general election in November. But serious punishment seems to be elusive, one good-government advocacy group says.

"Just because there is a brouhaha about the Rangel and Waters cases doesn't mean the ethics committee is doing a good job," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "It's great that they are handling Rangel and Waters, but it doesn't excuse them for what they haven't taken up."

The congressional ethics office can investigate lawmakers, and the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has the power to take disciplinary action.

Among other things, Rangel is accused of improperly soliciting donations from companies with business while he led the powerful chairmanship of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee to help fund a public center bearing his name. Waters, a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, is accused of intervening with federal officials on behalf of a bank in which her husband owns stock.

Both denied wrongdoing.

Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, another good-government organization, said the greater ethics activity is good.

"Calling these two very powerful members of Congress to task," Miller said, "is a warning shot across the bow for other members."

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