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  • House Leaders Dangerously Close to Leaving Ethics Panel Inoperable

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who has faced allegations of financial conflicts-of-interest, is slow-walking the extension of a key congressional panel charged with rooting out official wrongdoing.

    The Washington Examiner reports that Pelosi has not said when she will nominate members for the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). Four of its eight members’ terms will end on December 31, potentially denying the office a quorum and preventing it from operating.

    Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) also has yet to submit nominations, though he has been a bit more proactive than Pelosi, telling the Examiner that he will do so by the end of the year.

    With only 12 days until the OCE is denied a quorum, Pelosi’s hesitance has good-government advocates worried, according to the Examiner:

    “I think both parties would like nothing better than for the OCE to expire without either side being held responsible for the office’s demise,” Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and one of letter authors, told the Examiner.

    Sloan is disturbed by Pelosi’s coyness. “I’m not satisfied because we have no announcement. Look at the date. It does nothing if she appoints people in June,” Sloan said.

    While Pelosi has not been investigated by the OCE, she has drawn scrutiny for some practices during her tenure as the House’s top Democrat.

    In 2008, according to Hoover Institution fellow Peter Schwiezer, Pelosi participated in an initial public offering (IPO) for Visa. She and her husband bought between $1 million and $5 million in the company.

    Two weeks prior, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) introduced legislation that would have reduced the fees Visa could extract from retailers. Despite broad bipartisan support — and Pelosi’s populist aversion to financial services companies — the legislation never made it to the House floor.

    A provision of the STOCK Act, which sought to limit congressional “insider trading,” informally bore Pelosi’s name.

    Other members of Congress who have been quite vocal in their hostility to the OCE have also stood to profit from their official duties. Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC), for instance, proposed slashing the OCE’s budget by 40 perfect last year.

    From 2008 to 2010, Watt requested nearly $38 million in earmarks for the Northeast Corridor Light Rail Project in Charlotte, NC. The proposed project includes a station about three blocks from a property at 515 N. Poplar St. in which Watt has a 50 percent stake.

    As Schweizer notes, a rail station nearby can dramatically increase property values. “There’s a sweet spot for obtaining the maximum transit premium: two to four blocks away is ideal.”

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