The Office of Congressional Ethics referred seven of its nine pending cases to the House Ethics Committee for further review, according to its quarterly report released Tuesday.
The House Ethics panel now has until July 28 to decide whether to move forward with any of the cases. At that point, the targets of the OCE will be revealed.
One of those names could be that of Rep. Michele Bachmann, whose attorney confirmed in March that professional and personal acquaintances of the Minnesota Republican were being interviewed by OCE investigators regarding possible violations of campaign finance regulations. The allegations include using funds from her congressional leadership political action committee, MICHELE PAC, to pay for costs related to her failed 2012 presidential bid.
Congressional ethics proceedings are governed by strict codes of confidentiality, and even once the committee makes the seven investigation subjects public later this month, it won’t immediately disclose the circumstances under which they are being investigated.
That Bachmann could be under official scrutiny is known only through media reports; the possible misconduct came to light when Peter Waldron, a former Bachmann aide, raised the concern in a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.
Neither the committee nor the OCE is in a position to confirm or deny that Bachmann is being investigated. If she is not among those named in the next week and a half, it’s possible her case is one of the two still holding within the OCE. Ultimately, the OCE could dismiss her case before it is referred to the House panel — or it might end up that it was never looking at her case in any official capacity at all.
“There are no allegations that the Congresswoman engaged in any wrongdoing,” William McGinley, Bachmann’s attorney, said in a statement in late March. “We are constructively engaged with the OCE and are confident that at the end of their Review the OCE Board will conclude that Congresswoman Bachmann did not do anything inappropriate.”
The OCE’s report also revealed that the quasi-independent ethics watchdog opened no new cases from April to June of this year.
The OCE was established in 2008 as part of a crusade by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to “drain the swamp” of corruption and misconduct. Its job is to receive allegations of misconduct within the chamber, review those allegations and make referrals to the bipartisan House Ethics Committee when it determines that further review is needed.
The Ethics Committee then must, by a certain deadline, release public statements announcing either that it will form an investigative subcommittee into the matter or that it needs an additional 45 days to go over the referral. The end-of-July announcements satisfy those requirements.
Over the course of its existence, the OCE has engaged in more than 2,700 interactions with private citizens seeking to request information or submit evidence of wrongdoing by members of the House community.
Since its establishment, it has submitted only 35 matters to the Ethics Committee for formal review, and two have yielded official ethics “trials” wherein the eight members of the panel, selected by Democratic and Republican leadership, hear evidence and take a formal vote to determine punishment or vindication.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., was subject to a rare formal censure on the House floor in 2010 for various House rules violations; Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., was cleared in 2012 of charges that she used her influence on the Financial Services Committee to help the troubled bank where her husband was a stockholder, while her grandson and chief of staff ultimately received a letter of reproval.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Pelosi each pick four members to serve on the OCE, with the other’s consent. Former CIA Director and ex-Rep. Porter J. Goss, R-Fla., along with ex-Rep. David Skaggs, D-Colo., serve as co-chairmen.
Daniel Newhauser and Kate Ackley contributed to this report.