Aug. 26, 2015
Coalition Urges Lawmakers to Release Results of Ethics Investigation
Civic Groups and Academics Call on House Ethics Committee to Respect House Ethics Process
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A diverse coalition of civic organizations and academics sent a letter today to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and to the House leadership calling on the committee to respect established rules of procedure in handling a complaint regarding member and staff travel to Azerbaijan.
Following an extensive investigation by the U.S. Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) into the propriety of a privately sponsored trip for 10 House members and staff to Azerbaijan, the House Ethics Committee closed the investigation – finding that no members or staff violated ethics rules – and refused to release the findings of the OCE investigation as prescribed under the ethics process. It is imperative that OCE findings be publicly released so that the public can discern whether the actions of the Ethics Committee are justified.
The letter is signed by the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Demand Progress, Democracy 21, the National Legal & Policy Center and Public Citizen as well as scholars Thomas Mann, Norm Ornstein and James Thurber.
“We are concerned about the Committee’s unprecedented decision not to release the OCE’s findings in circumstances where the Members under investigation remain within the Ethics Committee jurisdiction,” the letter says. “This decision is especially concerning because the Committee itself played a decisive role in approving the Members’ travel to Azerbaijan.”
The case involves a 2013 trip by 10 lawmakers and more than 30 congressional aides to Azerbaijan that may have been funded by the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, laundered through a network of nonprofit organizations. The cost of the trip ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars and included expensive and prohibited gifts for members and staff.
The OCE initiated an investigation into the trip. Late into the investigation, the chairman and ranking member of the House Ethics Committee ordered the OCE to end its investigation without making it clear that the Ethics Committee itself would pursue the investigation. The OCE declined to end the investigation and sent its final report and findings to the committee as required under the rules. On July 31, the committee found no evidence of violations by the members and staff under investigation, and has since failed and refused to release the OCE findings to the public.
The letter concludes: “It is unknown whether the OCE’s findings shed any light on the role of the Committee in approving these trips. … It appears on the basis of the information contained in the Committee’s Report that the Committee did not comply with the applicable law and rules pertaining to its request that the OCE ‘cease and refer’ the Azerbaijan matter.”