Congress Probes Campaign Donations Surrounding Financial Reform Bill

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WASHINGTON – A congressional watchdog group last week cleared five House members in its probe of contributions surrounding votes on the Wall Street reform bill, but recommended the House Ethics Committee investigate potential charges against three lawmakers who were avidly raising money prior to key votes on the bill.

The recently passed Wall Street bill attracted intense lobbying from all corners of the financial sector, surrounding massive fundraising on a scale rarely seen in Washington. But it is always difficult to tie political fundraising to votes on a single bill.

One of the three, Tom Price, a Georgia Republican who held an important fundraiser Dec. 10 at the Washington insider restaurant Capital Hill Club the day before he voted against the financial reform bill, denied wrongdoing.  “There being no evidence of any wrongdoing or any inconsistency in my policy position, one can only guess as to the motive behind their decision or even why they chose to initiate a review in the first place,” said Price, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, who sought up to $2,500 in campaign donations that day from political action committees and lobbyists representing banks and other financial companies.

That month Price raised about $29,000 from financial PACs and interests groups, including  NAFCU PAC, American Financial Services PAC and PACs affiliated with the banks and accounting firms such as Bank of America, Credit Suisse First Boston, Deloitte & Touche and KPMG, according to records.

Price said his Dec. 11 vote against the Democratic-led financial reform bill was consistent with his voting record and that his position never changed.

A representative for NAFCU, which gave Price a $1,000 donation following the Dec. 10 plea, denied any improprieties related to the campaign contribution. “NAFCU made a contribution to Rep. Price’s campaign, as it routinely does to many congressional campaigns,” said Patty Briotta, spokesman for NAFCU. “It is our understanding from what we have read that this centers around the auto-dealer amendments to the financial reform bill that NAFCU neither took a position on nor lobbied.”

Two other House members are facing potential charges from the ethics committee, formally known as the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. They are California Republican John Campbell, also a member of the Financial Services Committee, and New York Democrat Joe Crowley, a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, which had jurisdiction of the tax-related provisions in the bank bill.

Campbell denied wrongdoing.  “I am perplexed by [the Office of Congressional Ethics’] decision, as they have presented no evidence that would suggest wrongdoing,” he said in a statement.

Crowley’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The ethics office recommended no further investigation of five other lawmakers in the same probe: Republicans Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who led the opposition to the bank bill, Christopher Lee of New York and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, and Democratic Reps. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota and Melvin Watt of North Carolina.

Officials at the Office of Congressional Ethics and the House Ethics Committee declined to comment. But a letter sent by the OCE to one congressional office noted that there could be an ethics violation if a lawmaker “solicited or accepted contributions in a manner which gave the appearance that special treatment or access was being provided to donors or the appearance that contributions were linked to an official act.”

 

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