29 Jun 2009 Subjects of Congressional Ethics Probe Fight Back
Project 21 just issued a press release criticizing the Congressional Black Caucus’s apparent plans to retaliate against the House Office of Congressional Ethics, which concluded that several CBC members should be investigated by the full Ethics Committee for alleged violations of gift rules.
The release says:
Project 21 Critical of Members of Congress Under Ethics Investigation for Retaliating Against House Ethics Office and for Playing ‘Race Card’
For Release: June 29, 2009
Contact: David Almasi at 202/543-4110 x11 or [email protected]
An apparent effort by the Congressional Black Caucus to deter ethics investigations of its membership is drawing sharp criticism from members of the black leadership group Project 21.CBC members reportedly are considering changes to the law authorizing the House Office of Congressional Ethics, or OCE, in retaliation for the OCE referring allegations against several CBC members to the House Ethics Committee.
CBC members reportedly also have complained that the OCE does not have enough minority staffers, adding a racial element to the apparent retaliation.
“What does the racial or ethnic makeup of the Office of Congressional Ethics have to do with the fact that these members of the Congressional Black Caucus may have violated ethics laws? It has absolutely no bearing on the charge, and to claim that is a lack of diversity at the OCE is playing the race card plain and simple,” said Project 21 member Joe Hicks, also a commentator for Pajamas Television. “It is laughable that CBC members are charging the OCE with some sort of racial targeting. The OCE was created by Speaker Pelosi, someone who shamelessly bends over backwards to be politically correct.”
Of the three investigative counsels hired by the OCE, one is black. The chairman of the formal Ethics Committee investigation sparked by the OCE referral is a black Member of Congress, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), a CBC member.
“A legitimate complaint has been filed and an investigation has begun, but political pressure is now being applied to cover up the allegations and brush everything under the rug,” said Project 21 member Bishop Council Nedd II. “So much for those promises to ‘drain the swamp’ and root out the ‘culture of corruption.’ It seems that swamp has turned into a hot tub for them rather quickly.”
“President Obama has long proclaimed that it is special interest lobbyists who are the root of what is wrong with our federal government. This latest lapse in congressional sensibilities exposes the fact that it is wayward members of Congress themselves, whether Republican or Democrat, who pose the greatest threat to good government for the citizens of this country,” said Project 21 member John Meredith. “The idea of disbanding the one avenue the citizens of this great nation have to track congressional malfeasance is an affront to the pledge of transparency in government and the use of the race card to facilitate the closing of the Office of Congressional Ethics is insulting not only to black people but to people of every color.”
The controversy was sparked by an ethics complaint (PDF) filed with the OCE by National Legal and Policy Center President Peter Flaherty.
In November 2008, Flaherty attended the “Caribbean Multi-Cultural Business Conference” on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. Although the conference officially was sponsored by the Carib News Foundation, according to Flaherty, signs and materials present indicate the event was funded by Citigroup, Pfizer, American Airlines, Verizon, IBM and other large corporations with business before Congress. CBC members Charles Rangel (D-NY), Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Delegate Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands) attended the event.
Members of Congress have been prohibited since 2007 from taking funded trips of over two days if those trips are paid for or coordinated by companies that “employ or retain a registered lobbyist.”
Flaherty alerted the OCE. In his letter to the OCE, Flaherty noted: “My characterization of the trip as a ‘junket’ is based on my observation that the sessions were lightly attended. Most attendees spent significant time at the beach or the pool. Members of Congress attended the sessions when they had a speaking role.” Flaherty also said any suggestion that attendees could not see evidence of corporate involvement was “implausible.”