Congresswoman Susan W. Brooks

Representing the 5th District of Indiana
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Ethics Committee finally opens for business Wednesday

Mar 19, 2017
In The News

The House Ethics Committee will meet for the first time in the 115th Congress next week and could make determinations on several complaints pending against lawmakers.

The panel was set to meet twice in the last two weeks but had to postpone its organizational meeting because of scheduling conflicts caused first by marathon markups of the GOP plan to repeal Obamacare, and then because of winter storm Stella.

But the committee is also behind for several other reasons. One is that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., didn't appoint the newest Democratic member, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., until Valentine's Day. The committee also has a new chairwoman, Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and a new ranking member, Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla.

The 10-member panel will have to decide immediately whether to open an investigation into allegations that Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., broke campaign finance laws. The committee acknowledged in mid-December it had received the referral but postponed making any decisions until the next Congress.

Wednesday's meeting is a rare public affair. Once the committee votes to adopt rules that will govern its actions for the next two years, it likely will move into closed session to consider the Duncan matter and perhaps other long-pending complaints.

Two other cases awaiting new committee members concern prominent Republicans.

Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington faces allegations, which she has denied through an attorney, that she mixed official, leadership, political action committee and campaign funds in violation of House rules.

The OCE referred the matter to the panel in late 2013. But except for one public announcement in March 2014 that the committee was extending its review, it has yet to make any determinations or take any action.

Last Congress the bipartisan committee was also slowly examining the actions of another Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who is now chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.

On March 18, 2016, the OCE recommended that the committee investigate payments to his former chief of staff that continued months after he left Meadows' office. On Aug. 17, the committee said it needed more time to determine if it should open an investigation.

Meadows himself asked the committee to look into the matter in November 2015.

The committee may also consider whether to finally move forward with investigations into the behavior of Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Bobby Rush, both Democrats from Illinois, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., which were first lodged in 2014.