- Halt of DOJ Investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis Condemned by Legal Center as Part of Disturbing Pattern
- Rep. Charles Rangel Censure Hailed by Legal Center
- Legal Center Joins Diverse Coalition in Urging House to Save Office of Congressional Ethics
- Supreme Court Accepts Challenge to Arizona Public Financing Law
- Tom Delay Conviction in Texas Praised by Legal Center
- Legal Center Refutes Anti-Disclosure Group Misinformation Pushed on State Officials Urging Unnecessary Repeals of Laws
- CLC Staff Serve on Six Panels at Annual COGEL Conference
- Executive Director Addresses Redistricting Issues with South Carolina Officials
Halt of DOJ Investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis Condemned by Legal Center as Part of Disturbing Pattern
On December 6, the Legal Center condemned the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to drop its investigation of Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-CA). In a statement, Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert condemned the action as the “latest in a long list of high-profile investigations that began with seemingly damning sets of allegations and ended with a whimper.”
Since the conviction of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) was overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct, DOJ’s Public Integrity section has backed away from and closed down its investigations in numerous scandals involving Members of Congress. Hebert said that the section “appears to have simply folded its tents and ceded the field” and has severely undermined public faith in the Justice Department and the democratic process.
Rep. Charles Rangel Censure Hailed by Legal Center
On December 2, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 333-79 to Censure Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) for a lengthy list of violations of House ethics rules. In a statement, Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee, praised the vote calling Rangel’s pattern of behavior “especially damaging because it sends a message that a so-called public servant feels he is above the law.”
McGehee cautioned that the vote to censure Rangel should not be used as an excuse to do away with or weaken the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which has helped to bring transparency and accountability to the long-dormant House ethics process. Incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner, who was an outspoken critic and voted against the creation of OCE in 2008, has not committed to renewing the office in the 112th Congress.
Legal Center Joins Diverse Coalition in Urging House to Save Office of Congressional Ethics
At a Capitol Hill press conference on December 2, a coalition of 10 groups from across the political spectrum (including the Campaign Legal Center, Judicial Watch, Taxpayers for Common Sense, National Taxpayers Union and a number of other reform groups) urged the incoming House leadership to continue the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) and to oppose any efforts to weaken or terminate the office in the 112th Congress.
In her statement, Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee stressed that the diverse groups were joining together “to make sure that the public, which has voted angrily for change in Washington for three straight elections, is made aware of any effort to do away with or curb the office and to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
The OCE will in essence have to be reauthorized in the rules package for the 112th Congress – not by an up or down vote - making it easier to undermine or do away with the office. Republican leadership in the House opposed the initial creation of the office.
Supreme Court Accepts Challenge to Arizona Public Financing Law
On November 29, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in McComish v. Bennett, a challenge to Arizona’s public financing law. The Legal Center, in a statement with Democracy 21, commented that while any campaign finance case accepted by the Supreme Court was not good news, but emphasized the narrow nature of the challenge and commented that is would “it will not mark the death of public financing.”
McComish challenges the “trigger provisions” in the Arizona law which allows additional public funding to candidates whose opponents cross certain spending thresholds. The statement emphasized that while the case could impact a handful of states with a “trigger” system, “it is not relevant to the current public financing proposals being pursued nationally and in a number of states, including the proposals to fix the presidential public financing system and to create a public financing system for congressional races.”
The Arizona law had been upheld by the Ninth Circuit in May of 2010. The Legal Center had previously filed a brief in the case.
Tom Delay Conviction in Texas Praised by Legal Center
On November 24, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) was convicted in Austin of money laundering and conspiracy charges for illegally redirecting corporate contributions into Texas legislative races. The funds were used to help Republicans gain control of the Legislature and push through a controversial mid-decade re-redistricting that allowed Republicans to gain additional seats in Congress. Legal Center President Trevor Potter issued a statement, praising the conviction as a “victory for democracy” proving “that even highly placed government officials are accountable for their violations of law.”
Potter praised local prosecutors for continuing to pursue the case after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) “abruptly and inexplicably” dropped its own investigation of DeLay and a number of other Members of Congress implicated in a variety of public corruption scandals, after prosecutorial misconduct led to the conviction of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) being thrown out.
DeLay, who has vowed to appeal, is scheduled to be sentenced on January 10, 2010.
Legal Center Refutes Anti-Disclosure Group Misinformation Pushed on State Officials Urging Unnecessary Repeals
On November 29, the Legal Center sent a letter to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission refuting a number of baseless interpretations of current law by the Institute for Justice (IFJ) in its contacts with the state. The IFJ informed Oklahoma officials incorrectly that several of its current laws were no longer valid in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and a federal appeals court decision in SpeechNow.
The IFJ’s misinformation claimed that Oklahoma laws requiring political committees to register with the state and file detailed disclosure reports would leave state defenseless in the face of inevitable lawsuits. Of the numerous claims made by the IFJ, the only valid one concerned the state’s contribution limit for political organizations that only make independent expenditures.
CLC Staff Serve on Six Panels at Annual Cogel Conference
A number of Legal Center staff participated in the Council on Government Ethics Laws (COGEL) conference in Washington, D.C. this past week (December 4-8) for its 32nd Annual Conference. Each year COGEL hosts a conference of leaders in various fields related to government ethics, campaign finance, lobbying regulation and elections. This year, Legal Center staff participated in six different COGEL panels. Legal Center FEC Program Director and Associate Legal Counsel Paul Ryan served on the COGEL Program Committee and sat on two panels entitled: “Campaign Finance Update I – Litigation” and “Campaign Finance Update II – Legislation”. Tara Malloy, Associate Legal Counsel was a panelist on two panels entitled “Independent Expenditures and Citizens United: The Federal Aftermath” and “Independent Expenditures and Citizens United: The State/Local Response”. Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee was a panelist on the panel entitled “Lobbying Regulation in the Nation’s Capital: Too Much? Too Little? Just Enough?”. Finally, Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert moderated the panel entitled “Census 2010: Anticipating the Impact of Redistricting”.
Executive Director Addresses Redistricting Issues with South Carolina Officials
On December 10, Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert addressed an audience from the South Carolina Association of Counties in Columbia, SC. Hebert made a presentation before the organization’s 2010 S.C. Local Government Attorneys’ Institute on the redistricting process and later participated in a panel discussion which dealt with the process, the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5 preclearance requirements, and redistricting case law.