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Ethics Committees Release Annual Reports

The House and Senate Ethics committees released an accounting of their 2011 activities this week, detailing the number of matters reviewed and the actions taken thus far during the 112th Congress.

The Senate’s annual report shows that its Ethics panel received 77 requests to review alleged violations, 58 of which were dismissed because of lack of jurisdiction and an additional 14 that were not pursued because there was insufficient evidence that a violation of Senate rules had occurred. None of the matters under review resulted in disciplinary action or public admonition.

In the House, the more active of the two chambers on ethics matters, the Ethics Committee commenced reviewing 25 new matters last year, in addition to 26 that it carried over from the 111th Congress. It completed 16 probes, 12 of which were publicly disclosed. It confidentially closed four other cases, which typically means no violation of House rules occurred.

The House Ethics Committee in July hired an independent investigator to look into the botched probe into allegations that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and her staffers intervened with federal regulators on behalf of a bank in which her husband had a financial interest. Attorney Billy Martin was tasked with first determining whether improper conduct occurred within the committee before deciding whether the Waters investigation should continue. His contract was extended into 2012, and a further announcement could occur at any time, according to sources.

The Senate Ethics Committee continued its inquiry from last year into the conduct of former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.). Though the special counsel it hired concluded that there was enough evidence to warrant a hearing and could likely have led to Ensign’s expulsion from the chamber, the committee’s purview over the matter ended when the lawmaker resigned.

In addition to accounting for the matters under review, the annual ethics reports detail non-ajudicatory activities of the two committees, which are tasked with conducting training sessions and ethics seminars, issuing advisory letters and reviewing travel and gift matters.

In the Senate, the committee wrote 800 ethics advisory letters, issued 4,130 letters about financial disclosures and held dozens of training sessions.

The House Ethics Committee reviewed 3,110 financial disclosures and related amendments, published 10 general advisories, conducted 51 training sessions and met 386 times with Members and staffers about specific ethics questions.

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