Preparing for Business, House Ethics Chairman Gets Ready to Call Out the Reserves

From CQ Today

This story appeared about a week after a coalition that included Common Cause and eight other watchdog groups held a press conference to call on the House to reform its ethics system, which has been essentially inactive since 1997.

By Susan Ferrechio

CQ Staff

Ethics committee Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., wants to create a pool of House members who could be tapped if investigative subcommittees are created to examine ethics issues or allegations.

Reacting to a recent spate of accusations against House members, Hefley said Wednesday he has asked Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to each pick 10 lawmakers.

Hefley said the creation of a standby roster to supplement the 10 members of the ethics committee, formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, is standard procedure in each Congress as a way “to broaden the number of people involved” in investigations.

If an investigative subcommittee is needed, Hefley said, he will pick one Republican from the pool and a second GOP lawmaker from the committee. Democratic ranking member Alan B. Mollohan, D-W.Va., would do the same on his side of the aisle.

Hefley would not directly link his decision to set up an ethics committee backup pool with the panel’s current examination of claims by Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich. Smith alleged that someone offered to donate $100,000 to his son Brad’s congressional campaign if the elder Smith voted for the conference report on the Medicare prescription drug law (PL 108-173). He later retracted his claim.

“We’ve made no decision one way or the other on it,” Hefley said of the Smith matter. “We are still in an informal fact-finding investigation.”

Hefley said, however, that “a number of issues have arisen” that might warrant an examination by the

Hastert spokesman John Feehery said the speaker is “working on” finding 10 members.