Amanda Becker

House Ethics to Formally Investigate Andrews, Don Young

The House Ethics Committee on Tuesday announced that it has formed investigative subcommittees to probe whether Reps. Robert E. Andrews, D-N.J., and Don Young, R-Alaska, violated rules by allegedly misusing campaign funds and making false statements.

The committee began reviewing some of Young’s travel expenses in the 111th Congress and later received a referral from the Department of Justice related to the trips in question. Federal investigators examined Young’s role in directing $10 million to a Florida road project that benefited one of his campaign donors. Though Young was not ultimately charged in the case, the F.B.I. released documents that showed the Alaska lawmaker used re-election funds for hunting trips, charter flights and other personal expenses, according to a New York Times report.

Craig's Use of Campaign Funds to Pay for Legal Defense Questioned

Former Sen. Larry E. Craig, R-Idaho, may face an uphill battle trying to convince a federal judge that he properly used campaign funds to pay for his legal defense after being arrested for soliciting sex in an airport bathroom.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, in a hearing Monday in Washington, D.C., likened it to using official re-election funds to pay for being arrested for robbing an airport kiosk or propositioning a prostitute, according to a report from The Associated Press.

Ney Says New Book Isn't About Settling Scores but Moving On

Former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, acknowledged on Wednesday night that while his recently released book paints a harsh portrait of some Washington figures, he isn’t out to settle a grudge.

“I’m not a bitter person,” he told the crowd gathered at the Monocle for a book release party. “I’m happy ... but there are some things in there I had to tell, I had to get it out.”

Ethics Committee Issues New Disclosure Forms for Privately Sponsored Trips

The House Ethics Committee has released the revised forms that members and staffers will have to submit before and after taking trips financed by private entities.

The forms reflect revisions the committee made to its regulations for privately funded travel in December in an effort to collect more targeted information about lobbyist-influenced travel. The new forms, released last week, must be used when seeking pre-approval or filing post-travel disclosures for trips leaving on or after April 1.

Bob Ney Eyes The Monocle for Book Event

Former Rep. Bob Ney, the former buddy to Jack Abramoff and powerful House Administration chairman who went to prison for his misdeeds, is back in Washington, D.C., to promote his new book.

“Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men of Capitol Hill” is being released Tuesday, and the Ohio Republican will be at the Senate-side restaurant The Monocle from 5 to 7:30 Wednesday evening to promote it.

As Sequester Begins, Republicans Open Door to Long-Term Deficit Deal

Republican congressional leaders opened some room Sunday for a longer-term deficit reduction agreement that eventually could blunt the effects of the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts now in place.

But in appearances on the Sunday talk shows, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., insisted that any revenue from a tax overhaul would have to be reserved for reducing tax rates and not used to fund government spending or lower the deficit.

Romney Says Obama Is Not Leading

Former Massachusetts governor and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama on Sunday for not finding a way to stop the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that went into effect Friday.

In his first television interview since the presidential election, Romney said Obama has been “campaigning” across the country and “berating” Republicans rather than working to find a way to get both parties in Congress to overcome gridlock and end the automatic cuts, known as the sequester.

Has Power Tipped in Favor of High Court?

Some of the more conservative justices on the Supreme Court weren’t shy about assessing their neighbors across the street Wednesday during oral arguments in a closely watched Voting Rights Act case.

Justice Antonin Scalia questioned Congress’ motives for renewing a central provision of the statute that was being challenged at the court, suggesting it was enacted because lawmakers feared political blowback for not doing so, not because the majority supported the measure. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. puzzled over why Congress didn’t at least update the formula used to determine which geographic areas the law covered. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy suggested it was a lack of will.

Justices Weigh Whether Voting Rights Law Is Outdated
Court’s decision could dramatically alter landscape of 1965 civil rights law

If the Supreme Court’s more liberal justices seemed reluctant Wednesday to find that a key provision of the Voting Rights Act was no longer needed, its more conservative justices seemed just as skeptical that the formula used to determine the statute’s geographic reach is still valid.

The court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder could dramatically alter the scope of the landmark 1965 civil rights law. Shelby County, Ala., has questioned the constitutionality of a portion of the statute that determines which areas, mainly in the South, must ask the federal government before changing voting procedures.

Republicans Advocate Same-Sex Marriage Rights in Court Filing

A group of current and former Republican lawmakers, including two members of Congress, will file a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that same-sex couples have the right to marry in one of two cases on the issue that the Supreme Court will hear next month.

The court filing, which was first reported late Monday by The New York Times, has been signed by Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Richard Hanna of New York. Other signatories include former Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio, former National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who has been a GOP presidential candidate, has also signed the filing. As of Monday night, there were 75 individuals onboard, the Times reported.

Messaging Ramps Up Before Key Voting Rights Case

A steady drumbeat of press briefings and messaging events is reaching a crescendo as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments Wednesday in a case that questions whether a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is still needed.

Briefing breakfasts, afternoon seminars, information sessions on the Hill and a coordinated bus campaign that mimics the Freedom Rides of the 1960s all focus on influencing the outcome of Shelby County v. Holder.

Voting Rights Act at Risk?

Frank “Butch” Ellis Jr. was sitting in his law office a half-hour’s drive from Birmingham, Ala., about three years ago when Edward Blum, an investment banker turned conservative legal activist, called him to discuss the Voting Rights Act. Although the two had never met, they quickly bonded over a common grievance.

Blum specifically wanted to discuss a provision in the landmark civil rights law requiring localities with a history of racial discrimination to obtain U.S. Justice Department permission to make any changes to their election procedures. Ellis, during nearly a half-century practicing law in Shelby County, had watched municipal clients jump through procedural hoops to gain “preclearance” from Washington lawyers. Moving a polling place could take months, for example, and require a voluminous paper trail.

Obama's Voting Initiative Greeted With Skepticism

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union pledge to create a nonpartisan commission to “improve the voting experience in America” has triggered reactions from the election-overhaul community that range from guarded optimism to overt disappointment.

Although voting-rights advocates are happy that Obama is trying to address some of the barriers that greeted voters on Election Day, they differ as to whether a presidential commission can play a viable role in the process.

Menendez's Ties to Donors Under Further Scrutiny

Sen. Robert Menendez continues to be hammered in media reports this week, with scrutiny expanding beyond alleged rendezvous with prostitutes and his cozy relationship with longtime doctor-donor friend Salomon Melgen.

Nearly a decade ago, when Menendez was a member of the House, the New Jersey Democrat made a failed attempted to stop a merger that would have hurt a company in which he had invested, according to a report in The Washington Free Beacon.

Watchdogs Square Off With Lawyers Over Ethics Rules

A coalition of government watchdog organizations is at odds with a bipartisan group of attorneys over rules published by an independent ethics office related to cases of congressional misconduct.

The Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Common Cause, among others, charged that the attorneys’ Feb. 4 request that the Office of Independent Ethics vacate the rules and ask for public input was “inappropriate” because it would “impede the agency’s ability to make the ethics process more accountable and transparent.”

Obama to Create Bipartisan Commission on Voting Problems

President Barack Obama announced his intention to create a nonpartisan commission to “improve the voting experience in America” during his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

"I’m asking two longtime experts in the field, who, by the way, recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Gov. [Mitt] Romney’s campaign, to lead it,” Obama told lawmakers gathered in the House chamber.

Lawmakers Use State of the Union Guests to Embody Talking Points

Immigration, same-sex unions, gun control, outsourcing and innovation will all be highlighted during tonight’s State of the Union address — when the camera pans to the guests who have joined lawmakers in the House chamber.

Presidents have long strived to put human faces on themes they articulate in the annual address. But now congressional invitees have become emblems of the talking points that lawmakers would like to see addressed in prime time, said James Thurber, director of American University’s Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies.

Ex-Rep. Jackson Reported to Admit to Campaign Finance Violations in Plea Deal

Former Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., D-Ill., has admitted to campaign finance violations in a plea deal with federal prosecutors, according to multiple news reports Friday.

Rumors of a plea deal have been swirling since shortly after Jackson was re-elected to his Chicago-area seat in November. He resigned soon after, citing ongoing health concerns. In the months leading up to the election, Jackson mysteriously disappeared from Washington, and his office refused to say where he was, only that he was being treated for a medical problem. Subsequently, his staff acknowledged he was being treated for bipolar disorder at the Mayo Clinic.

Menendez Plays Defense Against Increasing Reports

The allegations against Sen. Robert Menendez may have started with unsubstantiated stories about trysts with prostitutes, but questions about the lawmaker’s conduct have reached the point where they’re not focused on sex.

A slow drip of national news reports about the New Jersey Democrat and his ties to Florida ophthalmologist and political donor Salomon Melgen have put his office on the defensive over an assortment of issues including a port contract in the Dominican Republic and a possible intervention in a Medicare billing dispute involving the doctor.

Ethics Committee Will Continue Reviewing Schock, Owens Matters

The House Ethics Committee announced Wednesday that it would continue reviewing cases it received from an outside ethics office concerning Reps. Bill Owens, D-N.Y., and Aaron Schock, R-Ill., but said it would do so without forming a formal investigative subcommittee.

The committee will examine a trip to Taiwan that Owens and his wife took in December of 2011 at the invitation of the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan and whether it was in fact arranged or paid for by lobbyists for the country’s government at Park Strategies, a firm founded by former Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato of New York. Lobbyists are prohibited from arranging and financing most forms of lengthy congressional travel.