Wynn Takes Himself Off Committee

"I believe I've complied with both the letter and spirit of the ethics laws," said Albert Wynn, who is resigning in May. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008

U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn, under pressure from congressional ethics watchdogs after announcing he will resign from Congress in seven weeks to take a job at a lobbying law firm, has stepped down from his congressional committee assignments.

Wynn (D-Md.), an eight-term congressman who was defeated in February in the Democratic primary, said in a statement that he advised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday that he will leave his position on the House Energy and Commerce committee, as well as his subcommittee chairmanship, to avoid his presence becoming "fodder for partisan debate."

"While I believe I've complied with both the letter and spirit of the ethics laws, as well as engaged in the appropriate recusals, I am stepping down so that this issue will not be a distraction from the critical work of the committee to combat climate change, achieve energy independence, and protect our environment," he said in a statement.

Wynn was defeated in the primary by Prince George's lawyer Donna F. Edwards. He announced last month that he will step down early to became a partner at Dickstein Shapiro.

A number of Maryland politicians have blasted Wynn for forcing the state into a choice between paying as much as $2 million for a special election to fill his seat or leaving it vacant until a successor can take office in January 2009, after the regular general election in November between Edwards and Republican nominee Peter James.

On Monday, the Maryland General Assembly passed emergency legislation designed to let the state forgo a special primary election before a special general election. The measure could halve the cost of the process to $1 million.

If he signs the legislation, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) would then set a date for the special election.

Dan Weber, Edwards's spokesman, said Edwards plans to run in the special election and wants to "begin representing the district as soon as possible." The district, which includes parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, is heavily Democratic.

Congressional reform advocates have been concerned that Wynn's decision to remain in Congress even after accepting the law firm job could create conflicts of interest. A coalition of six groups sent Wynn a letter yesterday urging him to step down from his committee assignment before learning that he had done so.

"Certainly, given the breadth of the representation of the firm that he's going to . . . it would have been almost impossible for him to remain on that committee," said Joan Claybrook, president of advocacy group Public Citizen.

She said possibilities for conflicts continue to exist for Wynn and advised him to avoid "substantive issues" until his resignation becomes official May 31.

"I think he would be best to just vote 'present' [on the floor] and take this time to close out his office and finish his constituent activity," she said.

Wynn filed a statement with the House indicating that he will recuse himself from matters affecting the firm. It said he will continue work on local issues, including an annual job fair scheduled for May 5, and plans to vote on issues that do not affect the firm's clients. He took part in several floor votes yesterday.

Wynn said he has "provided as much candor and transparency as possible" about his plans.

"Unfortunately, this approach has led to unwarranted speculation about my motives, which probably explains why in the bad old days, politicians just left office to spend 'more time with their families' or address 'undisclosed health issues,' " Wynn said.

Terry Speigner, chairman of the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee, said some in Wynn's district believe the criticisms have been too fierce, adding that it has become common for ex-lawmakers to work for firms that lobby.

"I've heard over the years some concern about that, but I haven't heard it as amplified as I've heard it about Congressman Wynn," he said. "Personally, I think that's a little unfair."

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