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Ethics Examines Renzi’s Finances

Signaling that the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct may be probing the activities of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), a senior ethics aide pulled the embattled lawmakerís financial disclosure records on April 19 ó the same day the FBI raided Renziís family business in Sonoita, Ariz.

The top committee aide to ethics ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Todd Ungerecht, pulled all of Renziís annual financial disclosure records from 2003 to 2006, according to records available at the Houseís Legislative Resource Center.

The ethics committee has released no public statement on Renzi, and the panel does not comment on potential or ongoing investigations, so it is uncertain if the committee has launched a formal inquiry. Ungerecht declined to comment Monday, citing the panelís long-held confidentiality rules.

However, in light of the FBI raid and an ongoing federal investigation into Renziís business ties, it would be within the panelís jurisdiction to open an inquiry into the lawmaker. Renziís office had not responded for comment by press time.

While it was made public in the fall that Renzi was under preliminary federal investigation, the stakes were raised significantly on April 19 when the FBI raided the office of Patriot Insurance Agency, a business registered under Renziís wife, Roberta.

Facing political pressure from his partyís leadership in the wake of the raid, Renzi removed himself from all of his committee assignments, as well as a GOP fundraising program used to help vulnerable incumbents, but Renzi denied late last week that he is considering resigning his House seat.

The Wall Street Journal first reported in detail that federal authorities were looking into a federal land swap involving local mining companies and a Renzi business associate, James Sandlin. They are examining whether Renzi may have inappropriately pressured local businesses to benefit Sandlin, as well as the financial relationship between Renzi and Sandlin.

All Members and staff who meet a certain salary threshold must file annual disclosure forms listing their assets and debts. The ethics committee put out a reminder Monday that the next reports are due May 15, and the panel will be hosting three tutorial sessions before then.

Since the disclosures come under the panelís jurisdiction, the committee could examine Renziís records to make sure that he properly disclosed, if necessary, the business transactions in question. His 2002 and 2003 records indicate that Sandlin paid Renzi between $1 million and $5 million for his stake in Fountain Realty & Development.

At least three of the five Republicans on the ethics committee have given campaign contributions to Renzi, who is a perennial target for defeat by Democrats. Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) has made at least $2,500 in campaign contributions since 2003, Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) gave $1,000 in March 2005, and Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) gave $1,000 in February 2004, according to CQ PoliticalMoneyLine.

It does not appear that Hastings or Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) have donated directly to Renziís campaign.

Additionally, the Phoenix Business Journal reported Monday that Arizona attorney Grant Woods is no longer representing Renzi in the case and his legal defense is being run by of the D.C. firm Nixon Peabody.

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