Morning Business: Giving Pause

Posted January 5, 2009 at 6:50pm

The House ethics committee ended the 110th Congress without releasing its report on Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), despite vows by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that it would do so.

[IMGCAP(1)]Under House rules, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct must now vote to renew its investigation into Rangel in the new Congress.

The ethics panel announced in late December it was expanding its probe to include allegations of a quid pro quo involving legislation in exchange for donations to a City College of New York center named in Rangel’s honor.

In addition to Rangel’s fundraising efforts on behalf of City College, the probe also includes Rangel’s ownership of a villa in the Dominican Republic and his failure to report rental income on that property, which led to unpaid taxes; his use of House parking facilities for long-term vehicle storage; and the lawmaker’s use of three rent-controlled apartments as his primary residence.

Memo to Members. The House ethics committee released new guidance Monday to clarify that Members and senior staff do not have to report mortgages for their personal residences as liabilities on their annual financial disclosure forms.

The Dec. 30 memo from Standards of Official Conduct Chairman Gene Green (D-Texas) and ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) — both of whom are stepping down — notes that the 2008 House Ethics Manual included language that conflicted with the Ethics in Government Act regarding what liabilities had to be reported, which “has led to confusion about disclosure requirements.”

The manual appeared to indicate that a loan would have to be reported as a liability if it exceeded the purchase price of the item that serves as collateral. As the new guidance clarifies, that test applies only to loans secured by other personal property, such as appliances and automobiles, not mortgages on personal residences.

It is also not necessary to report “home equity loans and home equity lines of credit on personal residences, as long as the property … does not generate any rental income,” according to the memo.

Party Time. The Senate Ethics Committee posted on its Web site Monday a reminder to Members and aides to follow ethics rules when attending inaugural events this month.

Under the Senate gifts rule, lawmakers and aides are allowed to accept tickets to inauguration-related events paid for by any federal, state or local government employee or office.

In addition, the rules allow Senate employees to attend receptions with “food or refreshment of nominal value,” charity events, fundraising events by a political organization and widely attended events that include at least 25 non-Congressional partygoers.

Senators and staff can also hang onto commemorative T-shirts and baseball caps and other trinkets valued at less than $10, under the rules.