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Visclosky may face formal ethics probe

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U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-1st, is facing the possibility of a formal investigation by the U.S. House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

In a brief statement released on Friday, the committee said that it is “extending the matter regarding” Visclosky after the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) issued a recommendation for further review on Dec. 2.

OCE is an independent, non-partisan body charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against members, officers, and staff of the House. “The mission of the OCE and its board is to assist the United States House of Representatives in upholding high standards of ethical conduct,” the OCE states on its webpage.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct said that it will “announce its course of action in this matter” on or before March 2.

Since early last year Visclosky’s relationship with The PMA Group, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm, has been under scrutiny after it was reported that the now defunct firm is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Over several election cycles Visclosky’s campaign committees received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from PMA associates and clients alike, while for their part many of those clients received lucrative federal contracts in the form of earmarks secured by Visclosky.

Data compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Center for Responsive Politics show that in Fiscal Year 2008, for example, Visclosky secured 16 earmarks totaling $23,800,000 for PMA clients. Eight of those nine PMA clients—the recipients of nine separate earmarks totaling $12.6 million—contributed a total of $343,599 to Visclosky’s campaign committees over the last five election cycles.

Under House rules, members may accept donations from donors for whom they have secured earmarks, on the grounds that members have no financial interest in those campaign contributions.

Visclosky’s office released this statement today to the Chesterton Tribune: “Representative Visclosky remains confident that the Committee on Standards will reject the OCE’s recommendation for further review of this matter and conclude that there in no evidence that he violated any law or House rule related to his work on the Appropriations Committee. In the unlikely event that the committee elects to review the matter, Representative Visclosky intends to cooperate fully and believes that the committee will conclude that he engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever. Representative Visclosky looks forward to getting this matter behind him and continuing to work hard to serve all of his constituents in the First Congressional District.”


Any citizen may bring a matter of suspected misconduct to OCE’s attention. A preliminary review, to be completed in 30 days, may be authorized by two OCE board members “if all available information provides a reasonable basis to believe that a violation may have occurred,” OCE states on its webpage.

A second-phase review, to be completed in 45 days, may then be authorized by three board members “if all available information provides probable cause to believe a violation has occurred.”

“At the end of any second-phase review, the board must recommend to the (Committee on Standards of Official Conduct) either that the matter requires the committee’s further review or that it should dismiss the matter,” OCE states.

On Dec. 2 OCE recommended to the committee that a further review of Visclosky is warranted.

“A recommendation for further review does not constitute a determination that a violation has occurred,” OCE states.


•In February 2009 Visclosky announced that he would return $18,000 in contributions made over the last two election cycles by three men listed in Federal Election Commission (FEC) records as PMA associates but who in fact appear to have had no genuine affiliation at all with PMA.

•In March 2009 Visclosky confirmed media reports that a former chief of his staff, Rich Kaelen—who worked for Visclosky over a seven-month period in 2003—had subsequently been in the employ of PMA.

•Also in March 2009 the treasurer of the Visclosky for Congress Committee asked the FEC to issue an advisory opinion on the legality of Visclosky’s use of campaign funds to defray legal costs associated with the federal investigation.

•In April 2009, citing the PMA issue, Visclosky announced that in the Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations bill he would seek no earmarks for any for-profit entity.

•In May 2009 Visclosky announced that the U.S. Justice Department had served grand-jury subpoenas seeking documents to his campaign committees, his Congressional office, and certain unnamed staffers.

•In the June 2 edition of the Congressional Record Visclosky’s chief of staff, Chuck Brimmer, announced that he had been served with a subpoena.

•On June 3 Visclosky spokesman Jacob Ritvo confirmed that Brimmer had retired but declined to say exactly when Brimmer tendered his resignation.

•Later In June 2009, citing the likelihood that the PMA issue would make him a lightning rod for partisan attack, Visclosky announced that a colleague on the Energy and Water Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Commission had agreed to assume responsibility for managing the Fiscal Year 2010 Energy and Water appropriations bill. Visclosky did retain his chairmanship of the committee.

•Also in June 2009 the FEC ruled that Visclosky may use campaign funds to defray legal costs associated with the federal investigation.

•In August 2009 the FEC ruled that Visclosky may also use campaign funds to defray the legal expenses incurred by past or current staffers in connection with the investigation.


Posted 1/18/2010




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