Ethics Committee Investigates Tiahrt, Visclosky

Posted January 15, 2010 at 4:20pm

Updated: 9:10 p.m.The House ethics committee revealed Friday that it is reviewing unspecified allegations involving Reps. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) and Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), both of whom have previously been identified as subjects of an investigation into lawmakers’ ties to the PMA Group lobbying firm that was raided by the FBI in late 2008.The Office of Congressional Ethics, which is tasked with reviewing potential rules violations and referring investigations to the House ethics committee, forwarded both inquiries to the panel in early December.In a statement issued Friday afternoon, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the ethics panel, announced it will review the OCE’s recommendation for an additional 45 days. The ethics committee did not detail the allegations in either case, but Tiahrt issued a statement Friday indicating the investigation focuses on defense appropriations. Visclosky announced last year that his office had received subpoenas from the Justice Department in its investigation of the PMA Group. The department is reportedly investigating potentially improper campaign donations made by the lobbying firm and links to earmarks provided by Members of Congress.The ethics committee is allowed up to two 45-day periods to evaluate all OCE referrals. At the end of that period, the committee must release the OCE report to the public, unless it opts to open its own investigation into the matter.Although the ethics committee announced its own review of PMA in June 2009, it has not named any lawmakers under review to date or even which House rules infractions it is examining.In a statement, Tiahrt, who has denied wrongdoing, said he had requested the ethics committee take over the OCE investigation several months ago. “I’m relieved this matter is in the jurisdiction of the House Committee on Standards, which now allows me to be fully exonerated by March 2,— Tiahrt wrote, referring to the end of the 45-day extension approved Friday. “In November, I asked for this matter to be transferred to the Standards Committee because I respect their ability to professionally review my defense appropriations vetting process,— he added. “We have every confidence that as the Committee examines the facts, it will not only confirm the integrity of our rigorous procedures, but will find our vetting standards to be a professional model for other offices to adopt.—An OCE spokesman responded to Tiahrt’s statement Friday night, noting that the OCE investigation followed the office’s standard timeline, despite the Kansas lawmaker’s request.“In the matter of Rep. Tiahrt, as in all other matters, the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics followed regular procedures,— the spokesman said. “This matter was not forwarded to the Standards Committee because of a request by Rep. Tiahrt.—According to campaign finance records, Tiahrt’s campaign received $16,000 from PMA’s political action committee between 2001 and 2008. Tiahrt, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, also received an additional $6,000 in donations from PMA employees since 1995. Tiahrt has provided earmarks to several PMA clients, most notably the Boeing Co. and Aeroflex Corp., two major manufacturers in his district.Visclosky’s office did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.According to the Chesterton Tribune, Visclosky addressed the federal investigation of PMA at a town hall meeting in Chesterton, Ind., on Thursday, stating that “it is the lobbying firm, not him, under investigation,— the newspaper reported.The Tribune reported the Indiana lawmaker said he had behaved “ethically— and quoted Visclosky stating: “I cannot control the actions of other human beings.— In late December, four other lawmakers also identified as subjects of OCE investigations related to PMA — Reps. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Bill Young (R-Fla.) — told Roll Call that the OCE had closed its inquiries on them and advised against further investigation by the House ethics committee.A spokesman for Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) confirmed Friday that the OCE also closed its inquiry into the Ohio lawmaker in December and advised against further investigation in her case.“Congresswoman Kaptur has always been scrupulous and … has always emphasized transparency and openness,— Kaptur spokesman Steve Fought said. “She has been a Member for over a quarter of a century and very much respects the process. We were hopeful that the two panels, OCE and Standards, would be able to also be transparent and to share information with the public. It was out of respect for the process and to give them the space that they needed that we elected not to comment on their ongoing work.—But a knowledgeable source said Friday that the House ethics panel has yet to dismiss those investigations. Under both OCE and the ethics panel internal rules, the committee is not required to disclose its actions on matters that the OCE has recommended for dismissal, unless the ethics committee votes to open an investigation. While OCE investigations are generally limited to a maximum of about three months, the investigations of the seven Members involved in the PMA case appear to have begun in late June and wrapped up at the beginning of December. The ethics committee has previously criticized the OCE for allegedly missing the deadlines spelled out in its own rules. The OCE has defended its practices, asserting that the extended investigations comply with its regulations, in what appears to be a dispute over interpretation of the rules.