Congressional ethics probe into Pomeroy, others extended into second stage

Earl Pomeroy

FARGO – A congressional ethics probe into North Dakota Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy and seven other members of Congress is being extend into the next level of the process, as investigators gather more information.

As I wrote about previously, the Office of Congressional Ethics is looking into Pomeroy and the other congressmen for possible ties to campaign funds they received from financial sector interests in the days prior to the U.S. House’s December vote on the financial regulation overhaul bill, which Pomeroy voted for.

Here’s the brief update from the Associated Press, as published in today’s Forum:

Ethics investigation of Pomeroy extended
By: Associated Press, INFORUM

WASHINGTON – An ethics probe has been extended into the fundraising activity of North Dakota Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy and seven other congressmen.

According to The Hill, a D.C. congressional newspaper, the House Office of Congressional Ethics has sent at least four of the eight congressmen letters notifying them that it’s extending the probe beyond its initial 30-day stage, or preliminary review.

The office appears to be focusing on fundraising between Dec. 2 and Dec. 11, 2009 – the day the House passed its version of the financial reform legislation. Pomeroy voted in favor of the reform bill.

The other congressmen being investigated are Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y.; Mel Watt, D-N.C.; John Campbell, R-Calif.; Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas; Chris Lee, R-N.Y.; Frank Lucas, R-Okla.; and Tom Price, R-Ga.

Now, the ethics office has 30 more days to investigate and then can extend that to 45 days if there is “probable cause to believe allegations” – a slightly higher threshold than the “reasonable cause” required for a preliminary review, The Hill reported.

The Hill originally broke news of the OCE ethics review nearly two weeks ago, when it learned of the probe through documents they obtained and staffers close to the congressmen and OCE. OCE does not confirm or deny any investigations that may be happening, so official word of the probe hasn’t come from them.

While it sounds severe that the ethics review is being advanced, it’s more a procedural part of the process rather than an indication of any wrongdoing or any possible negative outcome for the congressmen.

Here’s how The Hill describes OCE’s review process in their latest story, published late Friday:

None of the eight members has previously been involved in ethics controversies, and the OCE decision to advance the investigation to a second stage may have little, if any, bearing on the actual merits of allegations against the lawmakers. The ethics office has just 30 days to gather material and make an assessment in the first stage.

As of late this week, investigators were still gathering documents from member offices from its initial request, according to several sources close to the probe.

In the second stage of the review, the OCE has 30 more days to look into the matter, with an option of extending that to 45 days. In order for the matter to advance to that next level there has to be “probable cause to believe allegations,” a slightly higher threshold than the “reasonable cause” required for a preliminary review.

The third stage, which would necessitate referral to the House ethics committee, is defined as  “substantial reason to believe allegations.”

The Hill / June 25, 2010

Pomeroy’s office initially had little to say about the ethics probe beyond pointing out that the “preliminary review” stage is simply a fact-gathering process and that Pomeroy voted “voted to crack down on Wall Street on the bill that Wall Street didn’t want.”

And as I wrote previously, there’s no clear connection between all eight congressmen. They are a mix of Republicans and Democrats; some voted for the financial overhaul bill while others voted against; and all but two (including Pomeroy) sit on the House Financial Services Committee, which crafted the bill.

With OCE’s ability to extend its review for another 30-45 days, it still might be several weeks before there’s any clear finality to this situation and what the outcome for Pomeroy might be.