Ethics Committee will continue to look at 3 cases

AP News
Posted: Sep 11, 2013 7:34 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Ethics Committee said Wednesday it would continue to look into ethics investigations of Rep. Michele Bachmann and two other lawmakers. The committee also dismissed a potential case against Rep. John Tierney as "inconclusive."

The committee said it would take more time to examine cases referred to it by the outside Office of Congressional Ethics that involve Bachmann, R-Minn., and Reps. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., and Pete Roskam, R-Ill.

The committee stopped short of launching formal investigations into any of the lawmakers and noted in a joint statement from its chairman, Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and the panel's top Democrat, California Rep. Linda Sanchez, that continuing an investigation "does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred."

The allegations against Bachmann surround her short-lived 2012 presidential campaign. Bishop's case is focused on a potential link between official actions and campaign donations, and Roskam's case concerns a trip he took to Taiwan. The case involving Tierney, D-Mass., was related to his financial disclosure reports.

The committee was required to declare its intentions for all four cases by Wednesday. It also was obligated to release the detailed investigative reports from OCE, which highlight why the lawmakers had been referred to the committee.

The OCE is an independent House panel run by a board of directors who are outside Congress, although some of them are former lawmakers. The OCE's investigative reports and recommendations for further investigation go to the member-run House Ethics Committee, the panel that decides whether rules were violated. The committee can then vote to continue investigations, launch its own formal investigations or dismiss cases outright.

OCE referred each of the investigations to Ethics Committee in June, recommending full investigations. In July, the House committee decided to take more time to look at each of the cases but was required to release OCE's investigative reports by Wednesday.

The reports offer the first detailed explanation for why each of the lawmakers was referred to the committee.

Bachmann's case centers on potential violations of federal campaign finance laws and House rules during her presidential campaign. In a statement released Wednesday, she denied wrongdoing.

"During my presidential campaign, I complied with all applicable laws and regulations, including House Ethics Rules," Bachmann said. "My campaign included experienced staff and advisers who, among other things, administered and managed the financial dealings of the campaign. My directive to them was clear and unequivocal: to be sure that the campaign complied with all relevant laws."

She said OCE's report "makes no finding that I or anyone on my campaign staff did anything to the contrary; it simply has referred certain matters to the committee responsible for reviewing these issues."

But the 79-page report concluded there was "substantial reason" to believe Bachmann violated campaign finance laws in a number of ways, including paying a top presidential campaign staffer with funds from her House political action committee. Bachmann either knowingly violated campaign finance laws or failed to properly supervise others, according to the OCE report, which portrayed a presidential campaign strapped for cash, with staffers often arguing among themselves and bumping up against ethical boundaries.

The OCE said it found potential ethical violations both in how Bachmann's campaign navigated finance laws and in how the Bachmann for President campaign interacted with promotional events for "Core Conviction," a political book Bachmann wrote and released just as her presidential campaign launched.

In one email included in the report, Bachmann's Iowa campaign manager wrote campaign staff after sparse attendance at a book signing event in an Iowa city, imploring them to gin up attendance at future book events.

"All — the Mason City event was a disaster. Please get in touch with anyone you know who might turnout for the following events and remind them about the events," Eric Woolson, Bachmann's Iowa campaign manager, wrote to campaign staff.

The report also included pictures of Bachmann for President campaign staffers handing out campaign-branded literature and signs at book signing events. Using campaign staff for promotion of a book is a violation of House ethics rules.

Other documents released Wednesday detail potential violations by Bishop and Roskam as well as allegations against Tierney.

In Bishop's case, an OCE report concluded there was substantial reason to believe the congressman "sought a campaign contribution because of or in connection with an official act."

According to the report, Bishop helped a constituent obtain a fireworks permit then quickly sought the maximum campaign donation of $5,000 from him.

In one email from Bishop to Robert Sillerman, a friend and campaign finance aide, the congressman said he had helped the constituent — and then said, "Hey, would you be willing to reach out to him to ask for a contribution? If he donates before June 26, he and his wife can each do 5 large."

Bishop said Wednesday that the report only highlighted that the ethics complaint against him was politically motivated. His opponent during his 2012 re-election campaign sought to portray him as engaging in a quid pro quo.

"The report released today confirms that the allegations made against me last summer were politically orchestrated and I am confident that the ongoing review of this matter will show that I acted in good faith to assist a constituent in need," Bishop said.

In Roskam's case, the ethics inquiry focused on a trip he took to Taiwan. In July, when consideration of Roskam's case was first publicized by the House Ethics Committee, Roskam took the unusual step of publicizing his own OCE report, saying he had nothing to hide.

The report centers on whether a trip he took to Taiwan with his wife was paid for by an arm of the Taiwanese government, a potential violation of House ethics rules. Roskam said in an interview Tuesday that he was not concerned.

"The process is just under way and it will work itself out," he said.

Tierney had been referred to the committee over allegations that payments his wife received from her brother and mother were income that she should have reported to the Internal Revenue Service and therefore should have been reflected in Tierney's financial disclosure reports.

The committee determined that Tierney did not intentionally file a misleading disclosure report because it is "inconclusive" whether payments to Tierney's wife were income or gifts.


Associated Press writer Kerry Lester in Springfield, Ill., contributed to this report.