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Washington Report: Updates From the Capitol

Ethics Panel Scrutinizes Lawmakers over Fundraisers

The Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating eight lawmakers to determine whether their vote on a Wall Street reform bill was influenced by their relationships with lobbyists. The probe involves five Republicans who voted against the bill and three Democrats, who voted for it, including black lawmaker Rep. Mel Watt (D-North Carolina).

Watt is known for his unflappable disposition and strong ethics. But since the story broke, Watt has been observed losing a bit of his cool. After being pressed by one very persistent reporter, he raised his voice and said, “How many times do I have to tell you, ma’am, I have no comment?” and then turned to the other reporters in the room, forming a megaphone with his hands, and said, “Hey, y’all: I have no comment. Does that register?”

His frustration underscores the very point that he and 19 other Congressional Black Caucus members hope to make with H. Res. 1416, which would limit the reach of the Office of Congressional Ethics and require confidentiality until there’s been an actual finding of wrongdoing. Frivolous inquiries can be costly to lawmakers’ wallets and reputations.
“When this story gets to their [districts],” said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), chief sponsor of the resolution, “all people see is they’re under investigation by Ethics and then they’re tried in the court of public opinion.”

Several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been overheard expressing their outrage over the investigation and Fudge says she’s getting increasing support for H. Res. 1416. Still, she notes, it’s an election year, making it unlikely that they’ll make their support public.

Rep. Artur Davis (D-Alabama) doesn’t support the CBC resolution but agrees investigations should initially be kept confidential. He also questions the validity of this investigation when members voted precisely as they were expected to.