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Wednesday | February 26, 2003

House Dems to launch ethics probe

House Democrats are on the verge of filing an ethics complaint against Rep. Oxley (R-Ohio), charging he pressured a mutual fund company to hire a Republican lobbyist.

Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Democratic leaders will meet as early as today to determine how to respond to allegations that top aides to Rep. Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio) suggested that a congressional probe of mutual fund companies might ease if the industry dismissed one of its most prominent Democratic lobbyists or hired a Republican. As chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Oxley oversees mutual fund companies.

"That is an extraordinarily serious allegation," Hoyer said. If proven true, "it's both unethical and frankly borders on perhaps being criminal." Several Democratic officials said party leaders plan to force an ethics investigation but do not want to be seen as targeting Oxley for partisan reasons.

With the trappings of power comes great hubris and the inevitable overreach (who can forget Dan Rostenkowski?). This isn't a phenomenon restricted to Republicans, and any such investigation should not be seen as partisan.

But the GOP is already screaming about partisanship and threatening retaliation

An investigation of Oxley could have broad ramifications for the House and for Washington lobbyists. Republicans privately warned they would retaliate by filing ethics charges against House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and perhaps other Democrats facing allegations of wrongdoing. The Federal Election Commission is investigating charges that Pelosi last year operated two leadership political action committees at the same time, a potential violation of election laws.

"I find it very dangerous for the comity of the House for people to play politics by filing ethics charges that have no basis," Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) told reporters yesterday.

If the charges have no basis, then DeLay and Oxley have nothing to worry about, right? Yet they insist on threatening Pelosi to scare away any oversight into their possible wrongdoing. But Pelosi isn't Gephardt. I doubt this threat will deter her. Nor can it. At stake is the halting of one of the GOP's most potent weapons, it's "K Street Project".
Hoyer said he sees the Oxley matter as a microcosm of a burgeoning GOP campaign to strong-arm companies and trade association to purge Democrats from important lobbying jobs. "It's part and parcel of a pattern pursued" by Republicans since they launched what they called the "K Street Project" shortly after winning control of Congress in 1994, Hoyer said.

The K Street Project, which involves top Republican lawmakers and party officials, was designed to track the party affiliation and political contribution of hundreds of lobbyists in Washington. The data are made available to lawmakers -- so they can deny access to Democrats if they so choose -- and to top party officials so they can lobby companies and trade associations to hire Republicans for top-paying jobs.

The ethics committee in 1998 admonished then-Majority Whip DeLay for pressuring the Electronic Industry Association not to hire former Rep. David McCurdy (D-Okla.) to run the group.

The investigation is being spurred by a Washington Post story detailing Oxley's exploits, boasting six sources (including Republicans).

So perhaps, contrary to Lott's assertions, the ethics charges do have some basis after all...

Posted February 26, 2003 08:18 AM | Comments (16)


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