As six-term Rep. Phil Gingrey wraps up his career in Congress, the House Ethics Committee took the Georgia Republican to task for helping a bank in which he held up to $250,000 in stock warrants.
The committee scolded Gingrey for providing "special favors or privileges" to the now-failed Bank of Ellijay by arranging for its representatives to meet with high-level Treasury Department and House staff, as well as with Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., then-ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee. The investigation was prompted by November 2011 pre ss reports charging that Gingrey was using his seat in Congress to act on behalf of two banks that he helped found. Gingrey joined the board of directors for the Bank of Ellijay and another bank around 2006. The Office of Congressional Ethics and the committee separately investigated claims that his compensation for the position violated rules, but dismissed the matter. The panel continued to probe other allegations.
In its Dec. 11 letter, issued after more than two years of investigation, the committee stated that Gingrey accepted "favors or benefits under circumstances which might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of [your] governmental duties," by providing the bankers with access to high-level Treasury Department and congressional meetings, after accepting the opportunity to join its board.
Gingrey's chief of staff, David Sours, was also blamed. After the Bank of Ellijay's chief financial officer contacted Gingrey's office for help arranging some Washington, D.C., meetings related to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as TARP, Sours suggested asking then-U.S. Treasurer Anna Cabral — also his mother-in-law—- to get the ball rolling.
The letter from House Ethics Chairman K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., notes the committee is "troubled" by Sours using his name and family connection to arrange the Treasury Department meeting. Sours, who was recently tapped to serve as chief of staff to incoming Rep.-elect Jody Hice, R-Ga., did not respond to an email from CQ Roll Call.
Given Gingrey's conflict of interest, and the fact that the Bank of Ellijay is not located in his district, the panel determined he should have steered their requests elsewhere, or asked for the committee's guidance.
During the investigation, Gingrey told the committee that he believed merely arranging meetings for Bank of Ellijay representatives, where the bankers would inquire about the status of their TARP application and advocate for distribution of TARP funds to community banks generally, was consistent with House rules. But the committee found his behavior conflicted with their caution to "avoid actions that would create even an appearance of conflicted, improper actions," the letter stated.
According to CQ Roll Call's annual Wealth of Congress report, Gingrey, a physician, is worth at least $2.56 million. He exits Capitol Hill as the 104th richest member of Congress, after losing a bid for Senate.
In an email to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution , Gingrey's lawyer, Stefan Passantino, accused the committee of using the public reprimand as a substitute for providing clarity on rules concerning conflicts of interest.
“While this is the lowest possible form of sanction the Committee can issue, press accounts concerning the treatment of other, remaining members of Congress have caused me a great deal of concern that the Committee isn’t following its own past precedent and that Representative Gingrey is being used to create a ‘teachable moment’ on his last day in office when issuance of forward-looking guidance to remaining members would have been more appropriate,” Passantino said.
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