Congress

Office of Congressional Ethics has transmitted four matters to Ethics Committee for further review

Cases are deemed by OCE to have a ‘substantial reason’ to believe a violation may have occurred

Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla., right, has a campaign finance matter currently before the House Ethics Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The independent investigative entity that examines ethical transgressions of House lawmakers has undertaken five new matters to review potential misconduct and transmitted four cases to the House Ethics Committee for further review in the third quarter.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, according to its latest activity report released Thursday, deemed those four matters contain a “substantial reason” to believe a violation may have occurred. 

Three matters transmitted to the Ethics Committee by OCE — involving Reps. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., Ross Spano, R-Fla., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., for potential campaign finance violations — were publicly announced by the committee on Sep. 30.

The OCE’s findings on those three could be publicly released by the Ethics Committee on Nov. 14 while the panel continues its inquiry. Alternatively, the committee could release its own findings along with those of OCE on that date, or it could impanel an investigative subcommittee — in which case OCE’s report need not be publicly released.

[House Ethics Committee announces reviews of Huizenga, Spano and Tlaib]

If the Ethics Committee were to impanel an investigative subcommittee for any of the matters, that would intensify the investigation and could — although not common — result in a hearing and House floor vote. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, is the subject of an investigative subcommittee into a tweet he sent President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, that seemed to threaten Cohen in relation to his congressional testimony.

A fourth matter that was transmitted to the Ethics Committee for further review on Sept. 18; it is unclear to whom it concerns. The matter calls for the Ethics Committee to release the OCE referral on Nov. 2, impanel an investigative subcommittee, or, as in the case of Tlaib, Spano and Huizenga, make a public announcement that the committee is extending its review for 45 days.

The matters sent to the Ethics Committee have cleared a preliminary review stage, which is authorized by two OCE board members — one appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and one by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

If information provides a “reasonable basis” to believe that a violation might have happened, then three board members can authorize a second-phase review if the information provides “probable cause” that a violation might have occurred. Following that second-phase review, the OCE either recommends the Ethics Committee further review the case or that the committee should dismiss the matter.

Since the start of the 116th Congress, OCE has undertaken 14 preliminary reviews, seven second-phase reviews and transmitted seven matters to the Ethics Committee, three of which recommended dismissal.

One matter that could be on the radar of OCE is a complaint it received alleging Rep. Matt Cartwright used his office to enrich his personal finances and those of his family.

Cartwright, a Pennsylvania Democrat, has introduced legislation to  increase the minimum amount of financial responsibility those who transport property — such as truck drivers — have to maintain.

This would increase the required amount from $750,000 to $4.53 million, and could require truck drivers to pay out more when they are sued.

Cartwright’s wife, Marion Munley, is a partner at Munley Law, a personal injury law firm in Pennsylvania and she serves as chair of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group.

Before his election to the House, Cartwright was a partner at Munley Law, which was then called Munley, Munley & Cartwright. Cartwright is listed in his financial disclosure form as participating in the Munley law firm’s profit sharing plan while he is “on leave.”

Cartwright has between $1 million and $5 million in profit sharing assets in the Munley law firm; separately, his wife holds between $1 million and $5 million in the firm’s profit sharing program.

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