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A Year in Congressional Ethics Retrospective

In May, the House Ethics Committee named the well-regarded Dan Schwager as its new staff director and chief counsel. 

In June came the matter of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who admitted to sending lewd photographs and text messages to several women. An ethics investigation never got off the ground, though, as Weiner promptly resigned.

In July, the committee took the unprecedented step of initiating an investigation of itself. It hired outside counsel to review allegations of misconduct by committee staffers in their handling of an ethics investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

Late last year, Waters was to face an ethics trial on charges of allegedly helping to arrange meetings with Treasury Department officials on behalf of a bank in which her husband owned stock. Shortly before the trial was to begin, however, it was canceled, and the committee announced that new materials had been discovered suggesting that the matter warranted further investigation before trial. Two committee staffers were suspended and later left the committee altogether. The outside counsel’s review is ongoing.

Also in July, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asked the Ethics Committee to investigate Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) amid allegations of sexual misconduct with the 18-year-old daughter of a campaign donor. Again, however, Wu resigned before the committee could act.

Meanwhile, a major ethics story from the past several years continued in 2011: the singling out of registered lobbyists for different legal treatment than nonlobbyists. The executive branch’s Office of Government Ethics introduced several new policies that again provide one set of standards for registered lobbyists and organizations that employ them and another set for everyone else. The increase in restrictions did not slow in 2011 and shows no signs of slowing next year.

Without question, 2011 was a busy year in government ethics. Best wishes for a happy holiday and an ethical new year.

C. Simon Davidson is a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods. Click here to submit questions. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice. Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship.

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