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Rep. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.), the top Democrat on the House ethics committee, has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and gifts to a family foundation from MZM Inc. and another firm that did business with MZM.
The former owner of MZM, Mitchell Wade, is at the heart of the recent scandal that toppled ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.). The Californian pleaded guilty last week to accepting $2.4 million in bribes, fraud and tax evasion charges.
The donations to Mollohan were perfectly legal. But the fact that the top ethics cop for House Democrats received significant sums from the company behind Congress’ biggest bribery scheme in recent memory opens him up to conflict-of-interest questions in any future ethics investigation involving MZM.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already called for a special bipartisan committee to investigate Cunningham’s relationship with Wade and MZM. And while Cunningham resigned from the House following his guilty plea, the House Intelligence Committee has initiated its own probe into his dealings with MZM and another defense contractor linked to Cunningham, ADCS Inc.
Some Republicans have privately suggested that the ethics committee would be a better forum for such an investigation. But Mollohan’s past relationship with MZM raises the possibility that the senior Democrat on the evenly divided panel might need to recuse himself from any such probe.
In an interview Tuesday, Mollohan refused to discuss the question of recusal, saying such issues are up to each Member who serves on the panel.
“It would not be appropriate to answer that question, and I’m not going to do that,” Mollohan said. “This whole question of recusing oneself because a certain individual is being looked at by the ethics committee is something the ethics committee would not encourage, on the assumption that Members are capable of deciding cases irrespective of the relationship with other Members.”
Under House ethics committee rules, any lawmaker serving on the panel may voluntarily disqualify himself or herself from any investigation. A written affidavit has to be submitted to the committee, which then has to approve the request. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) would then appoint another lawmaker from the same party to act as a member of the committee during any proceedings relating to that investigation.
Despite the controversy surrounding MZM and its former owner, Mollohan also said he had “no intention” of returning any contribution from MZM. (See related story, p. 19.)
In fact, Mollohan said he was unaware that Summit PAC, his soft-money leadership political action committee, had received contributions from MZM or Wade until informed by Roll Call.
Summit PAC received a $20,000 contribution from MZM in October 2002, according to Federal Election Commission records. Such soft-money donations were legal at the time but were later banned by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.
Wade himself gave $1,000 in hard money to Summit PAC in October 2003, and MZM’s PAC donated $2,000 to the fund in October 2004.
“Until you called, I had no idea that MZM had even given to Summit PAC,” the lawmaker said. “The people who were putting together Summit PAC were responsible for getting them to contribute. I don’t know MZM and I don’t know” Wade.