April 19, 2014

Lawmakers Request Documents From Lobbying Probe

Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) submitted a letter Thursday to the Office of Congressional Ethics, asking the investigative body to release documents collected during its probe of the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group.

Earlier this week, House ethics leaders publicly rejected similar requests from Flake, asserting that doing so could interfere with ongoing criminal investigations, as well as have a “chilling” effect on future investigations.

An OCE spokesman said Tuesday that the investigative office would likely consider the request, which includes as many as 200,000 pages of documents, at its next monthly board meeting.

The OCE, which reviews potential rules violations and refers investigations to the ethics committee, last year probed seven Members and their ties to PMA. It referred five of those cases for dismissal, and recommended further review of two.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the ethics panel, reviewed the OCE’s probe and issued a report in February declaring that no Member of the House and no House staffer had acted inappropriately in providing earmarks to companies that had hired PMA to lobby on their behalf.

In their letter to the OCE, Flake and Hodes highlighted language from both panels, however, that acknowledged a “widespread perception” among lobbyists that campaign contributions increased access to Members and influence over earmarks.

“Making public all of the collected documents would ensure that Members have an opportunity to familiarize themselves, through the actual source of the conclusion, with the nature and full extent of the ‘widespread perception’ by corporate entities and lobbyists that contributions are in fact linked to earmarks,” the letter states.

Both lawmakers have pushed for earmark reforms, and in the wake of the PMA investigation, Flake called for new guidance from the ethics committee on the appropriations process, particularly with regard to earmarks.

In a public statement Monday, the ethics committee indicated it does not plan to issue new guidance on the appropriations process.

“In addition, we note that policy decisions — whether about the current appropriations process, including earmarks, or about the campaign finance system — are not within the jurisdiction of the Committee. Whether these policies should be changed is a subject that should be taken up in the appropriate venue,” the ethics statement said.

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