8 House members investigated over fundraisers held near financial reform vote

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2010; 12:56 PM

The Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating eight lawmakers who held fundraisers within 48 hours of a major House vote on a Wall Street reform bill or received substantial donations from business people with a financial stake in the bill, according to congressional sources and letters.

The probe is focused on whether the timing of accepting the campaign checks created an unacceptable appearance of a conflict, according to sources familiar with the investigation and letters sent by the OCE to lobbyists requesting information. The OCE's spokesman declined to comment for this article, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.

The office is scrutinizing five Republicans and three Democrats, a diverse group that includes a conservative, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), and a liberal member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.).

On Wednesday, several members said through their office staff that they have done nothing inappropriate and are complying with the OCE request for information.

Seven of the eight members held fundraisers for their reelection campaigns on Dec. 9 or Dec. 10 -- just before the House voted Dec. 11 in favor of a bill to make broad changes in how Wall Street and financial firms are regulated, according to a Washington Post analysis. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) held a "Finance Services luncheon" at the Capitol Hill Club on Dec. 10. On the same day, a lobby firm with financial clients, Davis & Harman, hosted a fundraising breakfast for Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) at its Pennsylvania Avenue offices.

Watt held a Dec. 9 fundraiser and soon after withdrew a proposal he had introduced to subject auto dealers to tougher regulations, according to congressional records. The fundraiser generated checks largely from finance groups, including Goldman Sachs and the Investment Company Institute. In an interview, Watt said he will answer OCE's questions and declined to comment on the investigation.

The House ethics manual instructs members to steer away from accepting campaign donations if the timing creates an unacceptable appearance of a conflict of interest.

The other members under review are Republican lawmakers John Campbell of California, Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma and Christopher Lee of New York and Democrat Joseph Crowley of New York.

Jamey Delaplane, partner at Davis & Harman and a former Pomeroy staff member, said his event for Pomeroy was planned seven weeks prior, when the timing of the House vote was not known.

"Clearly, we had no sense this would coordinate in any way with the House financial services vote," he said.

Hensarling, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, did not have a formal fundraiser. But, according to letters, OCE investigators are asking about the 10-day period before the vote, when he raised at least $30,000 in cash from financial firms and their advocates for his leadership political action committee and campaign. "Congressman Hensarling categorically denies any implication of influence and looks forward to clearing up this false charge," spokesman George Rasley said.

Spokesmen for Campbell, Crowley and Pomeroy said the lawmakers complied with ethics rules and looked forward to a resolution of the OCE review.

Matt Harakal, a spokesman for Lee, said Wednesday that the congressman's office has been contacted about the audit.

"We were informed that the OCE has conducted similar audits in the past of groups of Democratic and Republican members," he said. "Chris believes strongly in accountability, has always complied with all federal laws, and is happy to comply with the OCE's request."

Price said in a statement that his voting record and opposition to Washington bailouts "has been consistent since day one" and fundraisers don't alter his view that Democrats' regulatory reform plans dangerously interfere with the economy.

"The initiation of the preliminary review by the OCE to determine whether political contributions may have influenced my vote in favor of a smaller, more responsible, government is without any merit whatsoever," Price said. "Any and all individuals wishing to support my efforts for a more principled government do so with the understanding that my beliefs reflect the views of my constituents and my policy decisions are based on what's in the best interests of my constituents and our country."

Lucas's spokeswoman Leslie Shedd said his office did receive a request for information from the Office of Congressional Ethics.

"We have already responded to that request and have complied in full," she said.

The Hill newspaper first reported that lobbyists were receiving requests for information about their interactions with lawmakers from the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Staff writer Paul Kane and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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