What Happened To The Young Guns?

What Happened To The Young Guns?

By Hannah Hess, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — When House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and fellow Republican Reps. Paul D. Ryan and Eric Cantor ganged up in 2007 as the new generation of conservative leadership, they did a great job putting the party’s goals down on paper, the man who unseated Cantor said Friday.

“But my question to them is, do they mean it? Did they just do that as a political ploy to run or was that a real pledge to America?” challenged Virginia Rep. Dave Brat. “Because usually when you do a pledge, you intend to keep your pledge.”

Counting the “Young Guns” casualties, first comes then-House Majority Leader Cantor’s stunning June 2014 primary loss to Brat.

Next, McCarthy shocked his fellow Republicans when the Californian backed out of his bid to be the next speaker.

Republicans, including many of the members who ran on the GOP’s 2010 “Pledge to America,” see Ryan as their dream speaker. But the Wisconsin congressman has said he doesn’t want the top post, although the pressure on him to run is growing.

“It’s still there,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores said, when asked about the Young Guns platform.

“Young Guns was designed to get bright leaders in Congress and I was one of the Young Guns. Gosh, there are probably 50 of us that are in that room in there,” the Texan told CQ Roll Call in the Speaker’s Lobby, gesturing to the House chamber. “And so, we haven’t gone away.”

The trio’s influence is found not just in their success recruiting Republican candidates, but in a triple-bylined book “Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders” published shortly before the 2010 elections.

Another member of the class of 2010 has become one of the loudest cheerleaders for a Ryan speakership.

“I’ve never seen anybody more disciplined and focused, personally or professionally, than Paul Ryan,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, who does P90X workouts with Ryan in the House gym. “He eats the same thing every day. It’s the exact same. You set your watch by it. He is — he’s got a pattern about what he does. He’s disciplined about it.”

The Michigan Republican, trying to make #RunPaulRun trendy on Twitter, said the Young Guns recruitment program helped draft stellar candidates for future leadership races. But the next generation of leaders isn’t ripe yet. Paul Ryan is, the thinking goes.

“There is a certain amount of institutional knowledge that I think is helpful. I think there is a certain amount of policy understanding that is helpful. A certain set of experiences, having played at a certain level, that is helpful. And how do you strike that balance with somebody who is going to be new, different and innovative?” Huizenga asked.

In 2010, the National Republican Congressional Committee named Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., one of its 52 Young Guns candidates. Webster has thrown his hat in for speaker, but Huizenga does not think his colleague is ready.

“As one of my friends back in Lansing always used to say, you know, ‘You can have a pot of water, throw vegetables in it, throw the meat in it, and all that other stuff. But at some point it’s not soup yet, right?'” he said. “At some point it becomes soup, where it becomes more than just the sum of its parts, it becomes kind of that whole package. I just don’t — I have not seen that yet.”

Brat was frustrated by a recent New York Times op-ed from Cantor. In his Sept. 27 take on the GOP after Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, announced his resignation, Cantor wrote that far-right conservatives had derailed the party.

“But somewhere along the road, a number of voices on the right began demanding that the Republican Congress not only block Mr. Obama’s agenda but enact a reversal of his policies. They took to the airwaves and the Internet and pronounced that congressional Republicans could undo the president’s agenda — with him still in office, mind you — and enact into law a conservative vision for government, without compromise,” he wrote.

Cantor said those voices “have not been honest with our fellow conservatives” and called for the GOP to “fight smartly … I have never heard of a football team that won by throwing only Hail Mary passes, yet that is being demanded of Republican leaders today.”

Brat accused the former majority leader of presenting a contradiction. “Every Republican ran on those mainstream Republican principles,” Brat said. “Is that unrealistic?” He said the 151 Republicans who opposed the continuing resolution represented a large enough coalition to uproot any potential speaker who was too cozy with the current leadership.

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., sees the most viable speaker — Young Gun or not — as someone who can form bipartisan coalitions to govern.

“If they choose the current course, which is appeasement and accommodation to the rejectionist wing of the party,” Dent said, “we’ll be stuck in this circular firing squad.”

Photo: Paul Ryan, the quintessential Young Gun and the man many Republicans want as speaker. DonkeyHotey/Flickr

Blimps Over Capitol: Just Hot Air?

Blimps Over Capitol: Just Hot Air?

By Hannah Hess, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Coming soon to a Capitol skyline near you: giant blimps at 10,000 feet?

The woman at the helm of the House Administration Committee thinks the Capitol needs eyes in the sky, after authorities failed to detect Florida mailman Douglas Hughes’ April 15 gyrocopter flight.

Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., visited U.S. Customs and Border Patrol ground stations along the Southern border in January and was amazed at the clarity of the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS. She is suggesting the “sophisticated technology” might suit the Capitol.

That would mean giant blimps stretching along the Washington, D.C., skyline at around 10,000 feet. Deployed by federal law enforcement, the aerostats contain 2,000-pound radars in their bellies, capable of detecting aircraft at a range of 200 miles.

“They’re going to be using drones to deliver your taco here pretty soon,” Miller said during a May 20 hearing featuring Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine. She suggested the department might be able to get “surplus stuff” from the Department of Defense. “I mean, this is what’s coming, so how can you be able to assess using technology that’s available, as quickly as you can?”

Other lawmakers take the suggestion of jumbo aeronautic balloons seriously, pointing to Hughes’ flight as justification for investing more money into surveillance of Washington’s skies.

Both Republicans and Democrats have been “very clear” to federal law enforcement authorities that they want “anybody who has anything to do with airspace to avail themselves to the most sophisticated technology,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“We’re going to hold their feet to the fire. I think they are doing the best they can, but I think what this has shown is it shows you where you’re vulnerable,” Cummings continued. “There are always copycats.”

Hughes will be back in D.C. court on June 22, facing two felony charges and four misdemeanors. He told reporters last week he believes if his flight exposed any security risks, they have been fixed.

“Nobody else could do what I did and get away (with it) without, at best, being forced down, (and) at worst, being shot down, and I highly recommend nobody try it,” he said outside the courthouse last week, after being charged.

Cummings said if Congress does not “take advantage of seeing what our problems may be and filling those holes, then shame on us.” He urged “urgency.”

Giant white radar-equipped airships already monitor the sky near Baltimore. The blimps, launched in December, cover a 340-mile range stretching south to North Carolina and north to the suburbs of Boston. It seems Congress might be willing to cough up the funds for similar technology more central to the Capitol. The House recently approved $369 million for the Capitol Police Department’s fiscal 2016 budget.

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., who serves as vice chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls Capitol Police funding, told CQ Roll Call “eyes above the sky” would “be received with an open mind.”

“It will just be a matter of time before somebody’s got a drone flying around here,” Amodei said. “What are you going to do with drones to make your stuff more effective, more efficient? It’s present technology so we probably need to start figuring out how you’re going to use it and defend against it.”

Miller’s logic is similar. “Drones are just an exploding technology,” she said in a follow-up interview, citing Amazon’s proposed delivery service, as well as agricultural drones. “You’re not putting the toothpaste back in the tube — it’s coming. So, for all the good things that they can do, there’s also a security risk.”

As for the aesthetics of adding big, white blimps to one of the world’s most iconic skylines, Miller suggested there are some types that would fly at higher elevations and be less visible.

“They’re not huge blimps,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who supports adding more aerial surveillance. “You could do a number of things that are not visually unappealing to our visitors and yet still provide the vehicle to have additional eyes on the Mall.”

“For us, it’s really about making sure that visual monitors that all our (Department of Homeland Security) has, that we have the proper funding and the proper resources for them to make more strategic decisions — whether it be Capitol Police or DHS or anybody else,” said Meadows, who chairs an Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee with jurisdiction over D.C. affairs.

Capitol Police have been looking into the technology, Dine said last week, in response to Miller’s question. “We actually had a briefing this morning and we look forward to briefing you in a confidential setting about some of the things that we’re looking at,” he said. Dine suggested Hughes’ flight exposed another “gap” that needs to be closed.

“Once the vehicle is identified, then what do you do about it?” he asked rhetorically. “But clearly the earlier we know about it and the earlier we can identify it, the better we can make decisions about evacuations — which is a big part of how we use our systems now — and whether any use of force either by us, or DOD … is appropriate. So you’re right, early identification is critical.”

Those who support Hughes’ cause think Congress is overreacting. The dozen or so supporters who turned out to the courthouse last week suggested Hughes is a hero, who had to go to such drastic measures to highlight the need for changing the campaign finance system.

“It wasn’t a violent act, for him to put his own life at risk in order to bring attention to something that has been going on for two decades in this country, and just continues to get worse,” Sergei Kostin said in an interview after Hughes’ brief hearing. Kostin joined CodePink protesters in the rear rows of the courtroom.

“Where was the security risk? What did he do really that was that violent in any way or that made the government that uneasy?” Kostin asked. “It was a little gyrocopter. I don’t think that’s necessary cause for the alarm that they are bringing attention to. I think that’s more a distraction.”

Image: Graphic showing how a Tethered Aerostat Radar System works. Source of information: U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Graphic is schematic, not to scale (Graphic: Greg Good/TNS)

Marijuana Bill Gains Steam In Senate

Marijuana Bill Gains Steam In Senate

By Hannah Hess, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — When it comes to pot, political winds may be shifting in the Senate.

Joining a new generation of senators such as Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), veteran Democrat Barbara Boxer has added her name to a bill rolled out March 10 aimed at protecting state medical marijuana operations from federal interference while rescheduling the drug.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley did not rule out taking up the legislation in his committee, and one of the Iowa Republican’s allies in the war on drugs said she is reviewing the measure.

“I think states can do what states can do. I think the federal law is another thing, and, you know I just hate to see this because there’s marijuana, then there’s marijuana,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), when asked by CQ Roll Call whether her views on pot had evolved in light of President Barack Obama’s recent suggestion that Congress and states might make progress on decriminalizing marijuana and rescheduling the drug.

“There’s very strong marijuana, and there’s marijuana that isn’t. And then there’s marijuana that may be medically beneficial, and this is what we are trying to pursue,” Feinstein said.

Grassley and Feinstein have written letters to the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services on the subject of expanding medical research of marijuana, but they received conflicting responses from the agencies. Feinstein said the pair is exploring options, and said she believes scientific, medical analysis of cannabidiol — in isolation from marijuana — is a necessary next step.

“It’s a matter of what are our priorities,” Grassley said on the subject of holding a hearing for the medical marijuana bill. He cited juvenile justice changes and patent trolling as top issues. He also said setting the agenda is a matter of reaching bipartisan agreement, and he has not given any thought to the proposal.

Do Obama’s comments increase pressure on Congress to address pot? “Absolutely not,” Grassley told CQ Roll Call.

But fellow Judiciary Committee Republican Jeff Flake disagreed.

“I think it does increase the pressure,” the Arizona senator said. “He’s probably right, you know, if you get to a majority of the states that are doing it, then people are going to say, ‘What’s Congress going to do? How can these states act in ways that are not congruent with federal law?’ So, I think he’s right, but I’m not saying where it will go. … There will be more pressure here.”

The bill has also picked up a GOP co-sponsor. Nevada’s Dean Heller announced his support last week, stating, “The time has come for the federal government to stop impeding the doctor-patient relationship in states that have decided their own medical marijuana policies.”

When asked if there’s momentum to change marijuana policy, Heller told CQ Roll Call, “It’s a reform. … (Those) take time.”

Still, advocates are pleased to see the Senate legislation gaining headwinds.

“It’s great to see longtime drug warriors starting to come around on this issue a bit,” said Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell, citing polling in support of legalization and decriminalization.

“Lawmakers have no choice but to get on board or get left behind. If this bill gets brought to a vote by leadership, it’s nearly certain to pass.”

Boxer spokesman Zachary Coile said in an email the senator is a “strong supporter of California’s medical marijuana law and she believes that patients, doctors and caregivers in states like California should be able to follow state law without fear of federal prosecution.”

Last year, Boxer expressed concern about a House-backed amendment, supported by Booker and Paul, that barred the Justice Department from using federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized it. At the time, she feared it might prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration from going after “rogue operators.”

Unlike the provision included in the final “cromnibus” agreement — set to expire at the end of this fiscal year — the language in the latest medical marijuana bill stipulates it would eliminate potential federal prosecution only for those acting in compliance with state law. In other words, police and prosecutors could still target the illegal drug rings that concern Boxer.

To be sure, some senators aren’t budging.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who reflects proudly on his efforts to fight the war on drugs as a U.S. attorney in the 1980s, said he thinks the president has made a “very serious error” with past statements that undermine the societal interest in controlling illegal drug use.

“I think we should be very cautious before we … move forward with the medical marijuana issue,” Sessions said of the latest medical marijuana legislation, “because I think that the pro-legalization advocates have always seen that as getting a foot in the door.”

Photo: Dank Depot via Flickr

A Federal Funding Fight Over D.C. Vouchers

A Federal Funding Fight Over D.C. Vouchers

By Hannah Hess, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Republicans on Capitol Hill are trying to protect the D.C. school voucher system, a GOP pet program championed by Speaker John A. Boehner and others.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Republicans are gearing up to move forward on a bill reauthorizing vouchers in the nation’s capital, an initiative known as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. They are concerned the White House has again signaled the demise of the federally funded private-school program in its fiscal 2016 budget request.

And in the Senate, the attempt to secure continued funding has gained a bit of bipartisan support.

“I very much believe in choices in education and I don’t believe that only wealthy children should be able to go to private school, so I’ve been a supporter for a long, long time,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the lone Democrat to sign onto a March 2 letter questioning President Barack Obama’s decision to terminate future scholarship funding.

The concern is that reduced funding would block new enrollees, and critics of the president’s budget proposal note public schools in the District of Columbia are some of the worst in the nation, in spite of spending almost $30,000 per pupil.

California’s senior senator told CQ Roll Call she was a key vote in 2004 in favor of establishing the program, which provides low-income students with up to $12,572 to pay for tuition, fees and public transportation to the school of their choice, including private and parochial institutions. “I’m for competition, for schools being able to spend the time that’s necessary with each child,” Feinstein said.

The president’s budget includes $43.2 million to remain available until expended, a reduction from $45 million in fiscal 2015. The administration wants $3.2 million of the proposed figure to be used for an evaluation of the program.

Questioned about the program’s success during a March 4 House Appropriations subcommittee, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said a previous evaluation showed “mixed” results. Democrats have in the past tried to prohibit new scholarships, arguing the funds would be better used in the public education system.

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s position on the proposed cuts is unclear. Spokeswoman LaToya Foster said Bowser has been a supporter of vouchers in the district. When the voucher systems — referred to by supporters as opportunity scholarships — were first introduced, D.C.’s school system was in a very different place, Foster said. But the quality has “improved tremendously since then.”

Asked directly whether Bowser wants to see the program reauthorized to accept new students, Foster said she couldn’t elaborate.

“The mayor is taking all that into consideration at this time,” she said. Foster also would not say whether the voucher program has come up during Bowser’s visits to Capitol Hill.

Congress may ask Bowser for a firmer position. A spokeswoman for Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), said the committee will hold a hearing on the program. The committee does not support Obama’s decision to “drastically underfund” the scholarships, and is concerned with “the persistent and systemic failings of many schools in the D.C. Public School system, especially those in traditionally low-income areas,” said spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin.

Appropriators in both chambers are expected to restore the reduced funds for new scholarships as they have done in the past, consistent with the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act put forth in 2011 by Boehner and then-Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT).

Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), has been spearheading the effort this year to secure funds for the scholarship program. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Scott has introduced legislation that proposes expanding student access and mandating excess carry-over funds be used to promote the program and support additional scholarships.

The letter to Obama, circulated by Scott’s office, states the scholarship program may be the only way for some D.C. children to lift themselves out of poverty, noting the enrollment wait list for D.C. public charter schools totals more than 22,000 applicants. The program received more than 3,600 applications for the 2014-2015 school year.

“Sadly, the Obama administration is again attempting to kill the successful DC Opportunity Scholarship Program by underfunding the program and preventing additional students from receiving scholarships,” Scott spokesman Sean Conner wrote in an email. “You can’t run a quality program year after year on carryover funding that will clearly expire. Senator Scott firmly believes that instead of restricting access to the program for low-income families in our nation’s capital, the president and the secretary of education should be doing everything they can to support its expansion, including funding for new children to receive scholarships.”

Photo: Mike Maguire via Flickr

Private Plane Rides Have Bumpy Congressional History

Private Plane Rides Have Bumpy Congressional History

By Hannah Hess, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Among the serious accusations of improper spending leveled at Rep. Aaron Schock since The Washington Post shined a spotlight on his Downton Abbey-themed office are at least a dozen flights aboard his political donors’ private planes.

But Rep. Don Young and a handful of other lawmakers have pushed to change the very ethics rule Schock is alleged to have violated by accepting flights aboard privately owned aircraft.

The Alaska Republican called it “one of the dumber rules that’s ever come out of the Rules Committee,” during a fall 2014 hearing on proposed rule changes for the 114th Congress, and told his colleagues he had plenty of friends who would like to pilot him around the sparsely populated northern extremities he represents.

Schock’s expenditures, first detailed by USA Today, involved both taxpayer and campaign funds. The trips potentially violate federal law and House rules forbidding the use of noncommercial aircraft. A follow-up investigation by The Associated Press used the Illinois Republican’s flashy Instagram account to track his travels and found he spent more than $40,000 on the flights.

Schock’s office told the AP he travels frequently in his district “to stay connected with my constituents,” and also travels for campaign fundraising purposes. He emphasized he takes compliance with congressional funding rules seriously and has reportedly hired a high-profile legal team to confront any potential ethics probe of his spending.

In 2013, the House amended its restrictions on the use of private aircraft to conform to existing rules in the Senate. The changes — adopted after Schock took some of the flights that are under scrutiny — allow members to pay their share of a charter flight with either taxpayer or campaign funds. It also gave the chairman and ranking member of the Ethics Committee authority to jointly waive this rule, citing extraordinary circumstances such as emergencies or in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

But Young wants to go further.

“This is ridiculous. It’s taking me away from my constituents,” he railed during the 2014 hearing. Although the rules have a carve-out for travel on flights provided by individuals or companies operating charter services, Young said he “can’t afford that — unless you want to give me another, uh, $40 million so I can charter an airplane.”

His proposed exemption would allow members to fly on privately owned, personal-use jets, helicopters and planes without pre-approval from the House Ethics Committee, provided the flights are within the member’s district, connected to official duties and the costs are not reimbursed by any corporation or other entity.

The change is backed by Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis, the Republican representing the entire state of Wyoming, according to Young, and other lawmakers from expansive districts. Members present at the hearing sounded sympathetic to the challenge Young faces representing a state with more than 663,000 square miles.

“It’s got to be daunting to say the least,” said Rep. Rich Nugent (R-FL), who served as chairman of the Sept. 17 panel.

But those who helped Democrats draft the original travel restrictions in 2007 — a key plank of the ethics overhaul swept through on the heels of the corruption scandal involving superlobbyist Jack Abramoff — say Young’s proposal is problematic “on its face.”

“The abuses this was responding to were not theoretical,” said Meredith McGehee, of the Campaign Legal Center. Abramoff lavished members of Congress with access to private jets. At the time, members hoped to avoid the public outrage caused when former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) hitched a ride on a tobacco company’s private jet to a court appearance.

“The dangers are grave because the benefits are so valued,” McGehee said. “Time is valuable. It’s just a very valuable thing.” Such flights provide a great opportunity for the very select class of people that can afford to own a private airplane to win goodwill and some face time with members, she explained.

In a reverse dynamic, the late Senator Alan Dixon (D-IL) had a reputation for soliciting free flights, McGehee said.

“A lot of times I think people forget it’s not just about the outside interest trying to buy access for influence, it’s also about the shakedown,” she said.

Public Citizen’s Craig Holman said that when the 2007 law was first passed, it “went a bit too far,” but he does not agree with further amending the rule as Young has proposed.

The original language sparked concern, legitimized by the Federal Aviation Administration, that members would be barred from flying on any non-government airplane. After Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) pointed out the “glaring error,” Democrats admitted it was poorly drafted. The measure forced Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-MN) to park the single-engine, four-seat plane he used to fly back and forth to Washington for a few months, before leaders found a fix.

Holman said he is particularly concerned by Young’s proposal to exempt private plane trips from the requirement of pre-approval by the Ethics Committee, potentially lifting disclosure requirements.

The private airplane influence peddling scheme “was quite a problem in Alaska,” Holman said. In 2014, the Ethics Committee rebuked Young for improperly accepting $60,000 in gifts, including rides on private planes. He was forced to repay nearly $31,000 to his campaign account and return another $28,000 to companies and individuals.

Young could certainly charter an airplane “that would keep it in a business format,” Holman said. “But when you’ve got the very wealthy handing over their private planes … on its face, this is egregious.”

Photo: House GOP via Flickr

A Campaign Finance-Minded Don Quixote Of Congress

A Campaign Finance-Minded Don Quixote Of Congress

By Hannah Hess, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Ask Rep. Ted Deutch about the fresh kiwi-hued paint job in his Rayburn office, and the Florida Democrat has a schtick: “Green, like the money we want to get out of politics.”
Deutch is taking a month long timeout from fundraising, putting the permanent campaign on hold when he is in Washington and Congress is in session. That amounts to 12 days, but he’s using the “Fundraising Free February” stunt to try to get people talking about campaign finance reform.

His communications director has watched her Google Alerts flourish, as the plot has garnered local media attention in Alabama and the Quad Cities. And, as Deutch will remind you, February is far from over.

“Random editorial boards, in places in the country where I am quite certain that nobody has a clue who I am, have read some of the press about it and were wondering why this isn’t something that everyone is doing,” the three-term congressman told CQ Roll Call. “It’s still the beginning of the month and my hope is that as we go on, more random communities will have an opportunity to learn about this and it will give us the chance to broaden the debate that’s already taking place.”

Deutch said the idea is popular among his constituents in Palm Beach and Broward counties, who sent him back to Congress with 99 percent support in 2014. He’s received feedback along the lines of, “Why is this one month? Why aren’t you spending 11 months doing what you were sent to Washington to do and maybe leaving a month to raise money?”

On Capitol Hill, reaction has been less rosy. Deutch declares Democrats broadly support diminishing the influence of money in politics, but he couldn’t convince any of his colleagues to join the challenge. He tried, unsuccessfully, to twist some arms in Philadelphia during House Democrats’ late January retreat.

No other lawmakers are participating in the challenge. Deutch said a Republican, who he declined to name, was close to signing on until he conferred with his office and realized he had an important fundraiser scheduled for February.

“There’s an appreciation for the idea that I’ve put forth, for the notion that we should try spending a month doing this,” Deutch said, when asked if Democratic leadership is on board with taking a pause in party fundraising. “There’s also the realization that there’s an enormous amount of money that’s going to come into the campaigns and nobody wants to be at a disadvantage. … There’s tension there.”

Inside the Beltway, Deutch’s push for campaign finance reform makes him akin to Don Quixote.

“Boy this is great, but you’re really just tilting at windmills here,” Deutch said he’s been told. Others say, “Don’t kid yourself, we all know this is the way it works,” to which Deutch pleads a certain naivete.

Deutch began talking about campaign finance reform in 2010, as a state senator. He was running in a special election for Congress when the Supreme Court handed down its groundbreaking Citizens United decision, changing the debate during the heat of the primary race. Deutch won the seat, but never got the standard freshman welcome from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“I was elected on April 13 and sworn in two days later, so I had no orientation. I had to figure things out as I went along,” Deutch said when asked about pressure to make fundraising calls. “Pressure for the most part comes from this overarching concern that if I head into the election season without sufficient resources, then any outside group, any individual, any SuperPAC may choose to come in to my district and overwhelm it, and take over the airwaves and control the debate.

“That’s a terrible situation that we find ourselves in,” Deutch said. “That’s why, again, the idea that Congress should be able to regulate the amount of money in politics shouldn’t be so — seem so radical.”

Early in his congressional career, he introduced an amendment aimed at overturning the decision that deregulated independent campaign spending. He’s since partnered with Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Tom Udall (D-NM) to press constitutional amendments that would give Congress and individual states the power to regulate campaign finance. He admits such legislation won’t pass this session of Congress, and even if it did win two-thirds of the House and Senate, states might not immediately ratify the change.

“I don’t think it’s a pipe dream,” Deutch said. “I just think it’s gonna take a little time.”

Those in Washington who see the constitutional amendment push or Fundraising Free February as a gimmick are “way behind the American people on this issue,” Deutch said. In the meantime, he suggests greater disclosure and changes at the FEC could be small steps to changing the system.

Deutch has dreamed up a few other stunts to change the way Congress works. After accidentally walking into the Republican cloakroom when he first arrived at the Capitol, he’s decided it would be a good idea to blur the partisan divide for a period of time by designating one cloakroom for members from even-numbered districts and the other for members from odd-numbered districts. Deutch also thinks every member should wear a name tag on the House floor, though some people “thought it sounded too much like kindergarten.”

Photo: cliff1066 via Flickr

Congressional Black Caucus Sees Leverage In Steve Scalise Protests

Congressional Black Caucus Sees Leverage In Steve Scalise Protests

By Hannah Hess, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Members of the Congressional Black Caucus see opportunity in the scandal that inspired a heart-shaped “KKK + GOP” sign outside a recent Capitol Hill Club fundraiser for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

Revelations that the Louisiana Republican rejected a 1996 resolution in apologizing for slavery — six years before his 2002 address at a meeting of white supremacists — “disgusted” CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield, but the North Carolina Democrat says he doesn’t want to dwell on it.

“Obviously, at this point the question is how can we use these missteps to create a relationship with (Scalise) that can benefit our communities going forward — and the jury is still out on that,” Butterfield said in an off-the-floor interview about controversy surrounding the House’s No. 3 Republican.

Unlike the progressive demonstrators who showed up for the Jan. 13 donor meeting, the CBC is not calling for GOP leaders to strip Scalise of his leadership post. Butterfield said that decision lies with the conference.

Some lawmakers suggested new leverage with Republican leadership on criminal justice legislation or funding for low-income minority communities. But the primary focus appears to be revamping the Voting Rights Act.

“We need an inclusion revolution,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), who wants to see the GOP pressed to “make right” what the Supreme Court “destroyed” in its June 2013 ruling. Cummings said he is not necessarily worried about Scalise stepping aside.

But Greg Billings, a Washington resident who joined the ten-person protest, told CQ Roll Call he thinks Scalise deserves the boot.

“It’s OK to keep him in the House — because he was elected — but he shouldn’t be a leader with influence over policy,” Billings said, clutching a sign depicting Scalise with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The current hullabaloo was kicked off with last month’s revelations that Scalise, as a state legislator, spoke to a Duke-founded white supremacist European-American Unity and Rights Organization in 2002.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said she appreciates the vigor of the protest groups who feel violated and hurt, but refrained from criticizing the Republican leaders who have rallied behind Scalise.

“They simply have to ask themselves a question: Is this their representative? If that is the case, that’s what their face will be to America,” she said. Jackson Lee has invited Scalise to lead his party on reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act — a popular suggestion from CBC lawmakers — and criminal justice reform, and attend the “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Ala.

“But we hope you’ll come with a changed attitude and actions to speak to America,” Jackson Lee added.

Former CBC Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH) said she would like to see Scalise sponsor a VRA amendment or “involve himself in the discussions about the police shootings of black boys and men.”

At least 11 black lawmakers, including Fudge, will travel to Ferguson, Mo., on Sunday to commemorate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and galvanize the local community around voting access.

Neither Fudge nor Butterfield said they had heard from Scalise directly as the controversy unfolded. A spokesperson in Scalise’s office did not respond to an inquiry about potential support for VRA legislation.

“He has not reached out to me, nor have I reached out to him,” Butterfield said.

Outside of Congress, civil rights groups have announced they will target both the funding and staff that fuel the Republican Party during the RNC winter meeting in San Diego. Presente.org will call for corporate donors to cut their ties. ColorofChange.org is planning to target staffers with ads related to the KKK asking: “Is this your GOP?”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Confusion Surrounds Conflict Of Interest Cases In Congress

Confusion Surrounds Conflict Of Interest Cases In Congress

By Hannah Hess, CQ Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Congressional investigators closed the 113th Congress with two reports touching on one of the murkiest subjects in the ethics manual: financial conflicts of interest.

Investing in companies tied to their home districts can help members understand the impact federal government decisions have on the private sector, but those ventures sometimes create a risk to their reputation.

“A congressman should zealously represent his constituents — he just can’t be one of them,” said Craig Engle, head of the political law group at Arent Fox LLP. He served as general counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee for five years, counseling candidates on laws related to elections and holding office, before moving to private practice.

“If you really want to make money, be a businessman,” he said in an interview. “If you want to make a difference, be a congressman. But you can’t be both at the same time.”

House rules prohibit members from using their seats to build their personal fortunes. The Code of Ethics bars people in government service from dishing out special favors and privileges, or accepting special benefits that might influence their job performance.

Following tricky decisions related to corruption allegations against Democratic Reps. Shelley Berkley of Nevada and Maxine Waters of California, the House Ethics Committee acknowledged that the House needs clearer guidance on conflict of interest rules.

In May 2013, the committee appointed a bipartisan group to study matters related to the disclosure and handling of personal financial interests in the chamber. No public recommendations have been released by the panel, consisting of Indiana Republican Susan W. Brooks and Florida Democrat Ted Deutch, but committee staff continue to field questions on the rules, and investigate alleged violations.

“If you go to the government to ask its advice, you should be able to rely upon that advice,” Engle said. That principle helped save one congressman, and condemn another.

In the case of Rep. Tom Petri, the committee found the Wisconsin Republican sought and relied upon its advice related to his advocacy on behalf of Oshkosh Corp. and Manitowoc Co., two firms based in his district in which he owned hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock. Although informal, staff-level advice is not a shield from future sanctions, congressional offices should be able to rely on the guidance, the report reasoned.

In five other instances where Petri used his position in Congress to help the companies but didn’t seek guidance, the committee determined his conduct was consistent with previous advice or didn’t raise concerns. The panel determined it would be “inequitable” to sanction Petri after his office had “proactively and repeatedly consulted with the committee staff on whether and how Petri could lawfully and properly engage in official actions on behalf of entities in which he had a financial interest.”

The 17-term congressman heralded the bipartisan committee’s Dec. 11 report as effectively clearing his name before his final term expired.

Retiring Rep. Phil Gingrey received a final report from the panel that was far less positive for his legacy. The Ethics Committee issued a report and letter scolding him for trying to help the Bank of Ellijay, a now-failed financial institution in which he owned stock. The Georgia Republican also occupied a seat on the bank’s board of directors.

Gingrey’s office helped arrange meetings with high-ranking Treasury Department officials and influential lawmakers for bank representatives, who wanted to talk about the Troubled Assets Relief Program. During the probe, Gingrey told investigators he was aware of a conflict of interest and knew he needed to be “very, very careful,” but the committee noted he still did not try to avoid the situation.

In chastising Gingrey, the committee relied upon guidance from 2009 that made clear members could not take official action on behalf of non-constituents in cases where they had financial interest. Although Gingrey’s lawyer tried to assert confusion surrounding conflict of interest rules, the panel found no ambiguity.

One part of the Dec. 11 report served as a reminder that this was not Gingrey’s first encounter with conflict of interest rules. In 2007, he sought guidance on whether his campaign could hire his daughter as a fundraising consultant. He was informed that he could do so, but was cautioned to “avoid situations in which even an inference might be drawn suggesting improper action.”

Photo: Republican Conference via Flickr

In Response To Ferguson, Black Caucus Backing Obama’s Call For Police Body Cameras

In Response To Ferguson, Black Caucus Backing Obama’s Call For Police Body Cameras

By Hannah Hess, CQ Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are backing the White House’s request for a $263 million spending package to expand the use of body cameras for police, hammering the point in a series of passionate floor speeches Monday night regarding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

In addition to praising President Barack Obama for taking the lead on body cameras, Rep. Al Green called on Congress to follow Obama’s lead on the issue by holding a hearing on the Texas Democrat’s own Transparency in Policing Act to expand use of the technology to all police departments that receive federal dollars.

“We shouldn’t get it right after the fact. This is what is happening in Ferguson,”Green said, suggesting a legislative response that is widely supported by the caucus. In Washington, the Metropolitan Police Departmentrolled outa pilot body camera program on Oct. 1, and cities around the country are launching similar programs.

“We don’t need to have an injustice take place before we move to a just circumstance and incorporate these body cameras,” he said.

Though Obama mostly avoided using his bully pulpit to talk about a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who killed the unarmed teenager Brown, the CBC began planning to shine a light on Ferguson when the House returned from its Thanksgiving break in the immediate wake of the decision. The lawmakers have demanded a more aggressive approach to the case, without previously offering a specific proposal for Congress.

“Mr. Speaker, we are running out of patience,” said CBC leader Marcia Fudge (D-OH) during her turn at the microphone. She repeated her blunt assertion that the decision not to indict was “yet another slap in our face.” Fudge also thanked Obama for “putting a focus on the need for community policing in our country.”

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) said a “cancer” of racial injustice has infected the country. “What has to be is that we cut this poison out of the system of this great country and openly say that we have this problem, and then, as the parents of Mr. Brown would want, that death would have been just another sacrifice that one of us has made to wake up this wonderful country to do what has to be done.”

Since the Nov. 24 announcement of the grand jury’s decision, Ferguson protesters in D.C. have visited the Capitol grounds, the Supreme Court and the Justice Department. This week, demonstrators stalled traffic in the District, shutting down the 14th Street Bridge during the Monday morning commute and a portion of Interstate 395 on Sunday.

“These demonstrations show that issues of detention and stopping of black men, especially black men in the streets, has been simmering below the surface until this tragedy became a way for it to find an outlet,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, (D-DC) said Monday night. She praised Attorney General Eric Holder, former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, for ending “provocative stops in the street” of the nation’s capital.

Norton also offered her support for body cameras, saying they protect the police as well as the public. She emphasized the focus needed to be “big picture … in essence, sending a message to police departments all over the United States.”

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski

Mandatory House Ethics Training? Incoming Freshmen Don’t See The Point

Mandatory House Ethics Training? Incoming Freshmen Don’t See The Point

By Hannah Hess, CQ Roll Call (TNS)

Minnesota Republican Tom Emmer, the staunchly conservative congressman-elect preparing to replace retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann, drew three takeaways from his recent training on House ethics rules.

“Pay for everything yourself, don’t take any gifts, and — if you have a question about either of those two rules — here’s the people you call,” Emmer quipped Tuesday morning, resting up in the basement of the Capitol Hill Club after a chilly photo shoot on the East Front Capitol steps with his fellow freshmen. “It’s that basic.”

Emmer and three other incoming members preparing to replace House lawmakers leaving Washington with open ethics reviews, all seemed to feel confident they were well-equipped to navigate Congress within the bounds of the 675 pages of rules governing the House, after a three-hour ethics briefing on the first day of the second week of orientation.

The session, featuring staff from the House Ethics Committee, the Office of Compliance and the Office of House Employment Counsel was helpful, according to Emmer, but nothing new. With nearly a decade of city council service, six years in the Minnesota House and a career as a lobbyist and lawyer under his belt, the 53-year-old said he is familiar with “conflicts of interest” and ethics policies.

Republican Glenn Grothman told CQ Roll Call, “Wisconsin ethics laws are even stricter than these,” as he exited the briefing. After more than two decades in state-level lawmaking, Grothman will replace retiring Rep. Tom Petri, who asked the House Ethics Committee to review his actions, amid questions about his relationship with defense contractors headquartered in his district that may have benefitted Petri’s financial interests.

The lesson delivered in the Capitol Visitor Center basement could be the only training incoming members receive on what might land them at the center of an ethics probe. Although all new staffers must receive ethics training within 60 days of their start date, and get refreshed on ethics each year, there is no mandate for House lawmakers to undergo annual ethics training.

Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline and Virginia Republican Scott Rigell, both elected to the House in 2010, are teaming up to request a rule change that would require all lawmakers to undergo an annual class on ethics in the 114th Congress. In an interview, Cicilline described a letter the bipartisan duo will send to leadership to make their case. Cicilline said undergoing annual training is “not only beneficial to members,” but also to the reputation of the institution.

In 2007, the Senate mandated training for all senators and staff. Senior staff must complete an additional hour of ethics training once per Congress. Employees who work on Capitol Hill must attend a live briefing, while district staff based in other cities can fulfill ethics training online.

“My takeaway would be there’s a very complex problem of trying to maintain ethics in Congress,” said Republican Brian Babin, a Texas dentist who replaces GOP firebrand Steve Stockman in January. The congressman and three members of his staff were recently subpoenaed by a federal court in the District of Columbia for what appears to be a grand jury investigation into Stockman’s alleged flouting of campaign finance law.

Babin said that after the general overview, he was sure he would have discussions and questions, probably related to gifts and travel. “If there’s any area where it doesn’t look like it’s cut and dry,” he said he will seek advice. He will also hire a team of veteran Capitol Hill staffers who know how to abide by all the rules.

Fellow Republican Lee Zeldin, who defeated Rep. Timothy H. Bishop in New York’s 1st District after a campaign that hammered the Democrat for alleged ethics indiscretions, found the ethics advice to be fairly intrinsic. Serving in the state Senate since 2011 taught Zeldin many of the guidelines about ethics in public office, he told CQ Roll Call.

“There might be, you know, a gift rule of $15 in someone’s statehouse, and you come here and it’s $10 — maybe exceptions are a little bit different,” Zeldin said. “It’s good that these rules are in place, that there’s a process in place if anyone has any questions at any time, you have people you can go to beforehand. This is an example of something where, instead of asking for forgiveness after the fact, if you have a question as to whether or not something’s right or wrong, you go to them beforehand.”

Those who want to mandate ethics training claim the rules are not only complicated, but evolve over time. For example, Ciccilline pointed out that the House has “very specific limitations on how your name can be used” in coordination with nonprofit events. There are also complex, perhaps murky rules when it comes to social media. Incoming members might not realize their Facebook pages, or the foreign trips they are planning, could be subject to ethics review.

“New members are obviously developing a whole set of procedures for their offices, building staff, receiving a lot of information,” Cicilline said. He clarified that he’s not “pre-judging” what his new colleagues might do, but believes all members would benefit. A bill he introduced with the same intent has support from 52 Democrats and six Republicans.

None of the freshmen of the 114th Congress expressed explicit support for mandatory House ethics training, though Zeldin indicated he might be open to learning more about the proposal. Emmers is opposed.

“The idea that you would make it mandatory, I mean … if you can read, if you are capable of being here, doing the work to become a representative, I think you’re capable of doing the homework and understanding the rules,” he said.

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

Feds In ‘Catch-22’ On D.C. Marijuana Legalization

Feds In ‘Catch-22’ On D.C. Marijuana Legalization

By Hannah Hess, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

WASHINGTON — Democrats representing jurisdictions that have voted to legalize recreational weed will roll out their congressional strategy on Thursday, but federal drug regulators may be plotting to handcuff the first such ballot initiative sent to Congress for review.

A former Drug Enforcement Administration associate chief counsel, who advised investigations and prosecutions arising under the Controlled Substances Act before moving into private practice in 2012, predicts the agency will be engaged in discussions with staffers to stop the District of Columbia from joining other localities that have legalized marijuana.

“No matter what the makeup of Congress is, they face a daunting task — allowing, by act of Congress, (people) to engage in something that is forbidden by federal law,” said Larry P. Cote, who now co-leads Quarles & Brady’s DEA compliance and litigation practice group and serves as the managing partner of the firm’s D.C. office. Cote described it as a “Catch-22.”

Last week, 64 percent of D.C. voters approved a ballot initiative that would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants at home, three of which can be mature. Election results should be certified Nov. 20. Then — like any District law impacting the criminal code — the D.C. Council must transmit the measure to Congress for a 60-day review.

If Capitol Hill allows District residents to cultivate their own cannabis for recreational purposes, are members signaling they’ve changed their minds on marijuana being a Schedule 1 drug — opting for a more lenient drug policy than the President Barack Obama administration?

“It doesn’t seem like there’s an appetite for that in Congress at all,” Cote said.Even after Obama expressed sympathy for state medical marijuana laws and decriminalization in his 2008 campaign, the Democrats controlling both chambers didn’t act to relax federal drug laws, Cote said, adding that such a move would “probably create a headache for law enforcement.”

Under DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart, the agency continues to classify pot as among the most dangerous narcotics, while supporting scientific research efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to study its medicinal properties. Federal narcotics agents have not receded from their clearly delineated enforcement responsibility under federal law, despite changes in public opinion.

Still, the pot lobby thinks D.C. has a potent chance.

“It’s likely that DEA will try to defend the failed prohibition approach in this case, as drug warriors always do when reformers win at the ballot box,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority. “But I don’t see Congress stepping in the way of marijuana legalization — which enjoys increasing majority voter support across the country — from being implemented in the nation’s capital.”

A series of late-night votes on the fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, including an amendment to cut funds for DEA raids on medical marijuana operations, demonstrates that “DEA and other prohibitionists are rapidly losing political clout,”Angell said in an email. “Indeed, several dozen Republicans joined a big majority of the Democratic caucus in voting specifically to stop the DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. No doubt DEA lobbied against that amendment, and they lost big time.”

Perhaps the easiest way for Congress to kill the District’s legalization law would be an appropriations rider prohibiting the city from spending its local funds to implement enforcement, similar to the language intended to block decriminalization that Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) successfully added to a House spending bill. Harris opposes lowering penalties for pot possession on the grounds that it could increase use among teens, and he has promised to fight this local law, too.

“I really don’t want to confuse the two issues,” said Tommy Wells, outgoing chairman of the D.C. Council Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. The Ward 6 Democrat pushed to lower a civil crime possession of an ounce or less of the drug, punishable with a $25 ticket,on social justice grounds. But Wells resisted calls to hold a hearing on a bill to legalize, tax and regulate sales of the drug. He fears conflating the two might undermine decriminalization efforts.

“We were the first jurisdiction in the nation to attach social justice to decriminalization, and I know that the legalization folks have picked up our arguments to say this is a matter of social justice as well,” Wells said in an interview at the John A. Wilson Building.

While Colorado and other states debated how a new approach to pot might reduce the drug trade or increase tax revenue, the District was the first jurisdiction in the nation to focus on disproportionate arrest rates among blacks.”In D.C.,” he said, “we’ve really pushed arguments more about the people that are impacted through criminalization.”

While Wells believes social conservatives will stop legalization before Congress even has a chance to look at the impact on federal drug regulation, D.C. Council member David Grosso doubts the DEA would be able to convince Congress to stop it.

“If you look at all the initiatives and all the things moving around the country, it’s not to their benefit,” Grosso, sponsor of the bill to legalize and regulate pot sales, told CQ Roll Call. “There’s not like a huge opponent to this out there anymore that’s going to score them on it, like … we hear with guns, or with the issues around reproductive health. So,it’s a question of how do you move forward. You’ve got to move forward.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said she gives “no credence” to talk of DEA interference. In a phone interview, Norton put her faith in the president’s strong rejection of the House’s attempt to interfere in the District’s decriminalization law this summer and discounted the prospect of executive interference.

“Those who want to overturn this can do it without the DEA,” the congresswoman said.

AFP Photo/Desiree Martin

Five House Members Will Leave Congress With Open Ethics Review

Five House Members Will Leave Congress With Open Ethics Review

By Hannah Hess, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

WASHINGTON — One often-repeated sound bite of state Sen. Lee Zeldin’s successful campaign to unseat Rep. Timothy H. Bishop in New York’s 1st District was, “Just call me the … mailman” — a line that came straight from the pages of an Office of Congressional Ethics report on the Democrat.

Republicans said Bishop was bragging in the email, included in an OCE report that revealed the congressman helped a constituent get government clearance for a bar mitzvah fireworks display. According to the OCE, Bishop then asked for “5 large” in campaign contributions.

The House Ethics Committee has not launched a formal investigation into the matter, but it appears the allegations still helped sink Bishop’s bid for a seventh term.

In accordance with rules requiring disclosure,the Ethics Committee publicly released the OCE’s report and findings on Sept. 11, 2013. The panel announced it would continue a fact-finding pursuant to Rule 18A, putting the Bishop probe in limbo with no requirement that any result be made public. One year later, the National Republican Congressional Committee hit the airwaves with a 30-second ad reminding voters that congressional ethics investigators and the FBI had both looked into the incumbent’s actions.

Because the Ethics Committee only investigates sitting members of Congress, Bishop’s election night defeat means the case is effectively closed on Capitol Hill.Four other House lawmakers are in the same boat in the wake of the midterms, set to sail away from Washington with no rebuke from the bipartisan group of lawmakers who sit on the panel charged with policing their own.In some cases, merely sharing the investigation with the public was penalizing enough for the member.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) announced her retirement from Congress on May 29, 2013, amid multiple probes into her 2012 presidential bid. Two days later, the OCE board voted to refer its report on alleged improper campaign spending to the Ethics Committee. It outlined the OCE’s evidence that Bachmann may have used campaign funds to promote her book and may have used funds from her leadership political action committee to supplement the salary of political campaign staff.

Like Bishop’s case, the panel announced a few months after the referral that it would continue to review Bachmann’s possible ethics violations. Republican Tom Emmer has been elected to succeed her.

Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) also leaves office with no rebuke from the House, weeks after an OCE report presenting evidence that suggests he used his position to help certain companies in which he was financially invested. After news reports about an investigation into Petri’s relationship with a defense contractor headquartered in his district, the 17-term lawmaker in February asked the Ethics Committee for a review in an attempt “to end any questions.” The OCE was simultaneously looking into his actions. Petri announced his retirement in April. Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman will fill the seat in next Congress.

House rules are designed to prevent OCE investigations from being used to score political points during an election year. The nonpartisan fact-finding board is barred from transmitting any referrals to the Ethics Committee within 60 days before a federal, state or local election in which the subject of the probe is a candidate. If an ongoing review ends during the suspension period, the board completes its referral and transmits the report on the first business day following the election.

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) faced an ethics probe during his final months in Congress for paying GOP communications consultant Brett O’Donnell, the so-called Tea Party whisperer, more than $43,000 in taxpayer dollars. Broun allegedly paid out in exchange for advice on communications during his failed bid for a Senate seat. Those revelations came from an OCE report released on Oct. 29, shortly before Republican Jody Hice won the three-term congressman’s seat.

The case will also be closed on Rep. Steve Stockman, who told the Houston Chronicle he was the target of an ethics probe a few days before the panel went public with the news. According to a scathing report by the OCE, the Texas Republican accepted contributions to his own congressional campaign committee from two employees. Stockman refutes the report as inaccurate and biased, but he will not be around to see the results of the ongoing review of the matter. He took himself out of commission after losing a primary challenge to Texas Sen. John Cornyn, and congratulated Republican Brian Babin on winning his seat.

Stockman escaped rebuke from what appeared to be a violation of House rules in September. He tweeted a photo of Broun from the House floor, breaching a clause on “comportment.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Do The Capitol’s Sergeants-at-Arms Carry Guns?

Do The Capitol’s Sergeants-at-Arms Carry Guns?

By Hannah Hess, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

Members of the Canadian Parliament are praising as a hero House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, a former police superintendent, for his reported role in taking down the gunman who entered the building. Capitol Hill may be wondering if its own sergeants-at-arms usually pack heat.

“I didn’t carry it all the time,”former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer said on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal Thursday morning. “I had it close at hand in a locked compartment.”

Gainer, who served as chief of the Capitol Police before his seven-year gig in the Senate, said he frequently relied on the uniformed officers of the department. “We have concentric circles of security around here and so they are the first line of defense, but as the chief law enforcement officer, I was armed when I needed to be or thought it was appropriate,” he said.

House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving also is armed while on duty, he has said in previous conversations with CQ Roll Call about securing the chamber. Irving, a Secret Service alumnus, is responsible for maintaining order in the House side of the complex and implementing policies related to the safety and security of members.

It’s unclear if the same policy applies on the other side of the chamber, where the sergeant-at-arms plays both security and administrative roles. (The House elects a separate chief administrative officer.)

Unique among sergeants-at-arms in the post-9/11 era, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Drew Willison does not have a law enforcement background. As Gainer’s former deputy and chief operating officer for the SAA, Willison brought a city manager’s touch to the role when he took over in May. His deputy is Michael Stenger, who spent 35 years in the Secret Service and rose to No. 3 in the organization before joining SAA in 2011.

The office did not immediately respond to calls and emails asking whether Willison is armed.

In the July 1998 attack on the Capitol, officers were the first line of defense against a man firing a .38 caliber revolver. Detective John Gibson, who was stationed outside the office of then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), managed to shoot armed intruder Russell Weston Jr.

Gibson later died from several gunshot wounds sustained during the incident. Officer Jacob Chestnut also was shot and killed that day. Authorities determined Weston suffered from severe delusions and wasunfit to stand trial. Weston, unlikely to ever be tried, wascommitted to a mental hospital.

In the immediate wake of Wednesday’s shooting in Ottawa, Capitol Police did not make any major modifications to security around the 276-acre complex. Department spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider indicated police were monitoring the event and remained at a”post-9/11 heightened level of awareness.”

Watchdogs Want Stronger Congressional Ethics Office

Watchdogs Want Stronger Congressional Ethics Office

By Hannah Hess, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

WASHINGTON — Despite its small staff of nine and a slim operating budget of about $1.5 million, the Office of Congressional Ethics has managed to achieve tangible victories in the House, according to sources once skeptical the agency could accomplish its mission.

Before its creation,the House Ethics Committee managed allegations of improper conduct by members and staff almost entirely on its own. In the first decade of the Ethics panel’s existence, only ten disciplinary actions were issued. Half occurred from 2006 to 2008, during the time when a scandal surrounding notorious ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff led to nearly two dozen convictions or guilty pleas.

Between OCE’s formation in 2009 and 2014, theHouse Ethics Committee issued 20 disciplinary actions with the help of the agency’s investigations.

That success is outlined in Public Citizen’s report titled, “The Case for Independent Ethics Agencies.” It’s the product of an Ethics Working Group that included the Campaign Legal Center, congressional scholars Norman Ornstein, Thomas Mann and James Thurber, and groups including Common Cause and the National Taxpayers Union.

To the relief of those advocates, OCE is likely here to stay.

Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) both indicated that the scrappy office will survive when new rules are established in the 114th Congress. But neither leader has publicly committed to changes that outsiders say are necessary to fully investigate allegations of wrongdoing and misconduct by members of Congress.

“Deafening silence,” Campaign Legal Center’s Meredith McGehee said Wednesday,describing the leaders’ responses during a round table held in cramped space on the sixth floor of the Longworth House Office Building.

McGehee and other speakers gave credit to Pelosi’s team for her early commitment to renewing the office, and to both parties for putting in place strong leadership at OCE, but the advocates say there are still plenty of weaknesses to be corrected. Public Citizen and Campaign Legal Center were among the groups that stopped working with the bipartisan task force formed to study the creation of an ethics office, once they learned the agency would not have the power to subpoena testimony and documents.

Language regarding OCE was added to Section X of House Rules in 2008. Many members of the ethics group rallied to OCE’s aid in late 2012, amid serious questions about whether it would survive in the 113th Congress. Ornstein wrote an opinion piece for CQ Roll Call about why the office “must survive.”

Craig Holman, legislative representative with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report, said he is not worried about OCE being in danger under current House leadership, but called the rules process a source of potential weakness.”If we do see a change in the leadership, I suspect this will become an issue once again,” he said.

In addition to making OCE more of a permanent institution of Congress, the ethics working group still wants subpoena authority and asks the House Ethics Committee to be more transparent with “pink sheets” that clarify ethics rules for specific circumstances and other guidance. They also say the Senate needs an equivalent independent ethics arm — a proposal that has failed to gain momentum in the chamber.

Chances for further changes to the House process in the 114th Congress look slim.

Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith declined to comment on the subpoena power idea.”The OCE has been renewed in each of the last two Congresses and I have no information that will change in the next,” he told CQ Roll Call in an email.

Pelosi also is “firmly committed” to the continuation of the OCE, according to spokesman Drew Hammill.”The creation of this body under the Democratic Majority, along with sweeping changes to House rules, remains critical to efforts to reform the way Washington works,” he said in an email. Hammill had no further comments on the other proposals.

Photo: L. Allen Brewer via Flickr