The Round-Up

Published: March 28, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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Here’s a re-cap of recent issues that have caught my attention.

Representative Charles Rangel, (D) from New York, who was censured by the House in 2010 after the Ethics Committee found him guilty of 11 counts of ethics violations, (failure to pay taxes, improper solicitation of fundraising donations, failure to correctly report his personal income), has agreed to pay $23, 000 in fines over the misuse of the rent law.

On Tuesday (Mar. 27), The New York Times reported that the Federal Election Commission’s “general counsel found that Mr. Rangel… and his campaign effectively accepted campaign contributions beyond the legal limit when he leased the rent-stabilized apartment at a price below market rate from the owner, according to the documents.”

The first page of the House Ethics Manual reads, “Members, officers, and employees of the House should: Conduct themselves at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House…

With 11 previous ethics violations and the recent rent issue, I’m wondering why this guy still has a job.


Last Friday (Mar. 24), The House Ethics Committee announced it is “extending its reviews of two members of Congress who have been accused in separate cases of improprieties involving their outside business interests.”

Republican Representatives Vern Buchanan of Florida is being investigated for an alleged “failure to disclose in full 17 outside business interests in his public financial filings.”

The House Manual: “Nor should [any member] attempt to circumvent any House rule or standard of conduct.

Representative Shelley Berkley, Democrat of Nevada is accused of using her work in Congress “to enrich herself through her husband’s medical work.”

The Times writes that “Ms. Berkley… has positioned herself as a champion of kidney care in Congress at the same time that her husband has worked as one of the top doctors in Nevada in the field. In 2008, she helped lead efforts to block a move by federal regulators to close Nevada’s only kidney transplant center. The center is part of a medical practice — co-owned by her husband — that received a $738,000 contract from Nevada’s University Medical Center.”

The House Manual: “[Members] should not in any way use their office for private gain.

Does anyone bother to read the Ethics Manual?

“But Jim,” Joe/Jane Congressperson might say, “I’m so busy with legislation, talking to constituents, staff, etc. there’s not much time to consult a 444-page manual on every potential issue that comes up!”

The Manual: “The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct urges Members, officers, and employees of the House to call or to write the Committee with any questions regarding the propriety of any current or proposed conduct. The Committee‘s Office of Advice and Education will provide confidential, informal advice over the telephone, and the Committee will provide confidential, formal written opinions to any Member, officer, or employee with a question within its jurisdiction.

Moving on, it was also reported last week (Mar. 24), that Republican member of The National Labor Relations Board, charged with oversight of union elections and enforcement of rules regarding unfair labor practices, “Terence F. Flynn, violated ethics rules by sharing confidential details on the status of pending cases and the likely votes of other members before decisions were released. A report from Inspector General David P. Berry also faulted Mr. Flynn for a “lack of candor” during the investigation… The report said Mr. Flynn committed the violations when he was still a staff lawyer at the agency, before he was elevated to one of its five members.

“Mr. Flynn told lawyers representing clients before the board about pre-decisional votes, the early positions of other members, the status of cases and the analysis of a pending rule-making that was planned to streamline union elections, the report said.

“In one instance, the report said, Mr. Flynn even helped an outside lawyer conduct research on how to attack a board rule that required businesses to put up posters explaining union rights.”


On March 15, it was reported that “At least two federal prosecutors involved in the botched ethics trial of the late Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens (R), ‘intentionally withheld and concealed’ significant evidence from the defense team that could have resulted in his acquittal, a court-appointed investigator has concluded.

“In a blistering 514-page report made public on Thursday,” the Times reported, “the special investigator said he had uncovered evidence that would ‘prove beyond a reasonable doubt’ that two members of the prosecutorial team in the 2008 trial, Joseph W. Bottini and James A. Goeke, had deliberately kept exculpatory information from Mr. Stevens’s defense team.”

But here’s the rub: “the report said that because the federal judge overseeing the trial, Emmet G. Sullivan, had not specifically ordered the government lawyers to turn over any such materials to the defense, as they are required to do by law, they could not be prosecuted for criminal contempt of court.”


Finally, as reported earlier this month (Mar. 11), “an alliance of government watchdog groups delivered 100,000 signatures to the Supreme Court along with a letter from hundreds of law professors calling on the justices to voluntarily adopt the code of conduct that applies to all other federal judges and to reform how they handle requests for recusals.”

While the Supreme Court has had a track record of having each justice decide for themselves, there has never been any independent review of their decision.

“Without limiting its independence,” the Times writes, “the court could adopt a sensible recusal process like one proposed by Stephen Gillers, the legal ethics expert. Any recusal motion would be sent to both the justice involved and to the chief justice (or the senior associate justice if the motion concerned the chief justice); if the justice decided not to recuse, the reviewing justice would consider whether the motion had merit and, if so, he would refer it to the full court (minus the justice at issue) for a ruling, with recusal requiring a majority. Any decision by the full court, to recuse or not, would require a written opinion.

“This approach would add little to the court’s workload since recusal motions are rare. But it would add considerably to the court’s credibility with the American public.”

The great orator and three-time Speaker of the House Henry Clay said, “Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.”


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