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Ethics Panel Probed Lightly Into PMA

The Feb. 26 ethics committee report concluding that no House Members colluded with the PMA Group lobbying firm to exchange earmarks for campaign contributions indicated that the committee had been investigating the matter since the spring of 2009.

But Roll Call has been unable to locate a single Member of Congress or company that was interviewed or asked for documents by the ethics committee, and a variety of sources said they believe that the committee did virtually no additional investigation beyond the draft reports on seven Members that were produced by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

In December, the OCE provided the ethics committee with reports on the relationships between PMA and seven Members, with each report running about 30 to 40 pages and including details of the investigations and samples of relevant documents. The OCE suggested that the ethics committee investigate two of the Members and dismiss the cases against the remaining five.

The ethics committee report announced that the panel — officially known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — had exonerated all seven of the Members and concluded that “the evidence presently before the committee does not support a determination that any House Member or employee violated any law, regulation, rule or other applicable standard of conduct” in connection with PMA.

The committee report was five pages long and included no documentation of any evidence collected or any interviews conducted by the committee, beyond a statement that the investigation “included extensive document reviews and interviews with numerous witnesses.” The ethics report says the committee reviewed documents adding up to nearly 250,000 pages. The OCE report states it collected about 200,000 document pages.

The ethics committee said it began investigating PMA in the spring of 2009 and noted that it received a directive from the House in July to report back on its work on PMA earmarks.

The lobbying firm was raided by federal agents late in 2008 and closed its doors last March amid reports that the Justice Department was investigating the firm’s campaign donations and earmarks that its clients received.

The ethics committee, which does not regularly discuss its work other than in its reports, did not comment for this article.

Referring to the committee’s overall workload, ranking member Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) said Thursday that he and Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) “have had multiple media inquiries, and we have agreed not to say anything separately.”

But Bonner said in response to a question about why the committee did not appear to have interviewed any Members for its PMA probe: “It’s a fair inquiry.”

In October 2007, Roll Call reported that the brother of Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) created a new political action committee that spring and within weeks raised $50,000 almost entirely from staff and clients of the PMA Group.

In July 2007, those same donors reaped millions of dollars in earmarks from Reyes and other Members of Congress closely affiliated with PMA. Reyes, who had just become chairman of the Intelligence Committee, passed an intelligence authorization bill including several earmarks for donors to the PAC.

Reyes was not questioned about his PMA-related fundraising by the OCE — which focused on members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense — and the ethics committee did not contact him either, his office confirmed last week.

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