Sunday, November 28, 2010

CA Republicans Look To Shut Down House Ethics Office

Our California Republican delegation in the House of Representatives (combined net worth of $672,185,877) is wasting no time at all getting down to work.

One of their first priorities? Shutting down the House Ethics Office.

Despite publicly promising more transparency and disclosure of the inner workings of Congress, behind closed doors, the GOP leadership has made moves indicating the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) may be targeted for cuts or extinction.
According to an email seen by ABC News, Rep. David Dreier (CA-26), (net worth $17,715,000) called the OCE on Friday, Nov. 5, just three days after the midterm elections in which Republicans regained a majority and control of the House. During that phone conversation, ABC's source said, the California representative asked for justification of its continued existence.
A memo outlining why the bipartisan group is a service to Congress was then sent to one of Dreier's representatives late Sunday evening, Nov. 7 – right before the 22-member (GOP) transition team convened to begin crafting rules for the operation of the GOP-led House, sources close to congressional leadership told ABC News.
At this point, it might be helpful to point out that another member of the GOP transition team, and one of Dreier's fellow CA-GOP Congressmen, John Campbell (CA-48) (net worth $37,282,000),  is currently under investigation by the very office they're trying to shut down.

The ethics investigation of a Republican congressman from Irvine has been referred to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The issue is a pair of campaign fundraisers before a key vote on financial reform.
Republican Congressman John Campbell publicly denounced the financial reform bill every step of the way. So his “no” vote on the measure, both in the House Financial Services Committee and on the House floor, was no surprise.
But in the days between those votes, Campbell held two fundraisers – and they could pose an ethics problem for the Orange County congressman. House ethics rules advise lawmakers to avoid “even the appearance” that political fundraising is linked to votes.
The independent House Office of Congressional Ethics has recommended that the House-run Committee on Standards of Official Conduct investigate whether the Campbell fundraisers violated ethics rules. In a statement, the three-term congressman said he’s “perplexed” because “no evidence” of wrongdoing has been presented. Campbell said he’s looking forward “to a favorable resolution of this matter.”

A quick Google search reveals that quite a number of the CA-GOP delegation have had their own run-ins with the Office of Congressional Ethics or other law enforcement authorities that could bring them to the attention of the OCE.

Jerry Lewis (CA-41) (net worth $1,550,000)- under investigation for his use of the “earmarking” process to benefit a lobbyist and friend, Bill Lowery. Of interest to the investigation is the revolving door between Lewis’ office and Lowery’s – two Lewis staffers have gone to work for Lowery as lobbyists, with one of them coming back to Lewis’ office – and Lewis' earmarking of projects for firms that Lowery represents, which has included the Brent Wilkes-owned ADCS. Federal investigators are also looking into a land deal which protected nearly 41 acres in Lewis’ neighborhood from developers. The land was given to the city of Redlands by Jack and Laura Dangermond. The couple, who founded and operate Environmental Systems Research, Inc., have received tens of millions of dollars in government contracts from the House Appropriations Committee that Lewis chaired through the 109th Congress.

Ken Calvert (CA-44) (net worth $9,799,995) has been on the radar of Congressional watchdogs for quite some time. In just one example, he came to the attention of authorities in 2006 for a shady land deal. A water and sewer district in northwestern Riverside County apparently circumvented state law when it sold 4 acres of public land to Inland Rep. Ken Calvert and his investment partners for $1.2 million in 2006. The Jurupa Area Recreation and Park District had hoped to purchase the land, but it was sold to Rep. Ken Calvert and other investors without first offering the land to other public agencies, a requirement of state law intended to provide more recreational land.

The deal allowed Calvert, R-Corona, and his partners to buy public land without competition in a booming sellers' market. 

Calvert co-sponsored legislation that would increase the water supply of the Jurupa Community Services District and other water agencies by providing money for desalination facilities. District general manager Carole McGreevy, who oversaw the land deal, is also secretary of a joint-powers authority that owns and operates desalination plants in the Chino Basin. Calvert said in a telephone interview that the legislation benefits the region, not just the Jurupa district.

Under ethics rules, Calvert has no conflicts of interest as long as he paid market value for the land, according to political ethics experts. But some observers said the deal raises questions.

Gary Miller (CA-42)  (net worth $84,302,000) came to the OCE's attention in 2006 for allegedly violating House ethics rules when he took out nearly $7.5 million in promissory notes in 2004 from a campaign contributor and business partner, Lewis Operating Corp., which he used to purchase real estate from the company. Lewis Operating Corp., a real-estate development company based in Southern California, is one of Miller’s top campaign contributors; employees of the company have donated $19,300 to Miller’s campaign committee since his election in 1998.

Dana Rohrabacher (CA-46), (net worth $734,998) though not a target of an OCE investigation, is somewhat "troubled" about how his good friends Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay have been treated by the authorities. According to the LA Times, Rohrabacher accepted $7,500 from Abramoff or the Indian tribes he represented. As for Delay, he had this to offer in 2009:
"What was done to Tom DeLay and other Republicans in the past was unconscionable. Accusations against them in the form of questionable indictments were used as an excuse to destroy everything they had worked for politically by making them step down from their positions before being convicted of anything. DeLay's treatment was completely unfair and cost him his political career, yet he was never convicted."
Delay was convicted on November 24 of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

It's not a shock that these California Republicans would want to see the OCE disappear, just as it wouldn't be a shock to find out a robber would want the local police station shut down. But if successful, they'll send a hell of a message to voters who swept them into office on a wave of tea-bag fueled rage. They'll change the way Washington does business alright, but not in any way those voters might have imagined or intended.

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