No Disciplinary Actions From Senate Ethics Panel in ’09

Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:52am

The Senate Ethics Committee did not hand down any disciplinary actions in 2009 — the third consecutive year that the panel has found no violations worthy of such sanctions — according to an annual report issued Friday.

During the 2009 calendar year, the committee received 99 allegations of rules violations, including those filed by Senators and their aides, and considered an additional 26 matters continued from 2008.

Ultimately, the ethics panel dismissed 103 of those complaints — including 17 of the matters continued from 2008 — because the committee either lacked jurisdiction or the allegations lacked sufficient facts to show a violation of Senate rules.

The ethics committee opened preliminary investigations in 13 of the complaints — about 10 percent of those received or considered in 2009 — including eight allegations submitted in 2008.

Preliminary inquiries are aimed at determining whether sufficient evidence exists to suggest a violation within the committee’s jurisdiction has occurred. But the report does not provide details on any of the matters, including the Senators or the aides or the specific rules violations alleged.

None of the preliminary inquiries resulted in an “adjudicatory review,— the second stage of an investigation commissioned by the committee that results in disciplinary action such as censure, restitution or a recommendation to strip a Member of seniority or assignments.

The committee has not conducted any adjudicatory reviews since 2007, the first year that the Senate panel began issuing annual reports mandated under the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007.

In addition, the committee reported that eight of the preliminary reviews were dismissed for “lack of substantial merit,— including “two letters of public dismissal.—

The ethics committee in August dismissed allegations that Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) received sweetheart loans from Countrywide Financial’s VIP program, but it chastised the pair for not being more vigilant to ensure against the appearance of special treatment. Both lawmakers said they never asked for favorable terms on their loans.

One of the preliminary reviews also resulted in a public letter of admonition issued in November to Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.).

That letter reprimanded Burris for discrediting himself and the Senate in the way that he sought appointment to the seat previously held by President Barack Obama, stating Burris “should have known that you were providing incorrect, inconsistent, misleading or incomplete information to the public, the Senate and those conducting legitimate inquiries into your appointment to the Senate.—

The statistics indicate the Senate ethics panel could have as many as four investigations still under way.

The report does not detail what matters are currently under consideration.

At least one inquiry is focused on Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who has faced media scrutiny over his handling of an affair with the wife of a former aide.

The ethics report also tallies activities conducted by the committee in its day-to-day advisory role, which included more than 12,667 phone calls for ethics advice and guidance, a drop form the 15,555 that it reported in 2008.

The panel also issued 996 advisory letters and responses, also a decline from the more than 1,200 letters issued in 2008. The panel issued almost 3,309 letters related to financial disclosure forms and reviewed more than 1,600 reports, an increase from the previous year.