Congressional ethics investigators increasingly hit walls

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In 2020, the Senate Ethics Committee received 144 complaints of violations and dismissed all of them.

Kedric Payne, senior ethics director at the Campaign Legal Center and former deputy chief counsel for the Congressional Ethics Office, said it was becoming too common for lawmakers to flout ethical rules imposed by Congress. The Campaign Legal Center has tracked dozens of violations of the STOCK Act, which requires members to report stock transactions within 45 days of the transaction, but is generally ignored.

Business Insider reported this month that 52 members of Congress broke the law this year. Penalties are often minimal, starting at just a $ 200 fine, and lawmakers have a 30-day grace period to comply after exceeding the deadline.

California Democrat President Nancy Pelosi recently rejected the idea that members should be banned from trading in stocks.

“We are a free market economy,” she told reporters. “They should be able to participate. “

But Mr Payne argued that more needs to be done to ensure members of Congress behave ethically. Refusing to comply with STOCK law or cooperate with ethical investigations should not be accepted as routine, he said.

“The failure to comply with the STOCK law is the most egregious violation by several members of Congress that I have seen in recent history,” he said. “You need tougher rules that would restrict stock transactions that appear to be conflicts of interest – for example, trading in stocks in an industry that is within the purview of your committee.”

Still, he thinks participating in a congressional inquiry is possibly the smartest strategy for a lawmaker.

In 2019, Representative David Schweikert, Arizona Republican, refused to cooperate with a Congressional Ethics Office investigation into campaign finance violations and allegations he embezzled funds and pressured his Congressional staff to quash ‘he is doing campaign work. He later became the first member reprimanded on the House floor since 2012.

“If you don’t cooperate, it’s more likely that the ECO will find serious reasons to believe that a violation has occurred,” Payne said.

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