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Ethics panel keeps Gingrich complaint alive

October 1, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Less than a year after Newt Gingrich was reprimanded and assessed a $300,000 penalty, the House ethics committee voted Tuesday to keep active a complaint alleging the speaker committed campaign finance violations.

Operating with new members and a new set of rules, the committee also decided that complaints against House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., should remain active. Shuster is chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

The committee took no position on any of the complaints, but keeping them active could lead to months of grief for Gingrich, Shuster and DeLay _ three of the most powerful members of Congress. The Gingrich case was separate from the allegations that led to his punishment last January.

``The committee has voted to carry over the three pending complaints remaining from the 104th Congress,″ a terse committee statement said. ``This procedural motion is consistent with prior committee precedent and is not intended to reflect on the merits of the pending complaints.″

The only issue before the committee was whether to dismiss the cases or keep them active. The decision was made at the first meeting of the newly reconstituted Committee on Standards of Official Conduct _ the ethics panel’s formal name.

The committee has been virtually inactive since the Gingrich reprimand last January, remaining in limbo while the House worked on revising its rules in an effort to avoid the partisanship of the first Gingrich case.

The complaint against Gingrich alleged that the speaker received $250,000 from GOPAC, a conservative political organization, for his personal use; received illegal campaign contributions from GOPAC and used the organization to funnel illegal campaign contributions to himself and others. The complaint contends the improper activities occurred while Gingrich headed GOPAC.

Gingrich has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Christina Martin, Gingrich’s spokeswoman, said, ``This is simply a procedural action which has no deeper significance or meaning.″

The complaint against Shuster, filed by the Congressional Accountability Project, asked the ethics panel to investigate the close personal and professional ties between Shuster and Ann Eppard, a transportation lobbyist who was the lawmaker’s congressional chief of staff for 22 years.

Shuster last year called the complaint by the organization, which is affiliated with congressional critic Ralph Nader, a ``smear campaign″ and ``a transparent attempt to influence″ his 1996 re-election campaign.

Ms. Eppard is assistant treasurer for Shuster’s campaign organization and has helped him raise more than $1 million since 1995, much of it from the transportation industry.

Ann Eppard Associates, specializing in transportation issues before Shuster’s committee, raked in $1.1 million from 17 clients in 1996, more than double the $450,000 earned in its first year.

Ms. Eppard has signed up six new clients this year, as Shuster’s committee worked on a top-to-bottom overhaul of federal transportation programs.

The Congressional Accountability Project also filed the complaint against DeLay, citing newspaper reports that the House GOP whip backed a number of issues before Congress that his lobbyist-brother promoted on behalf of clients.

DeLay has denied any wrongdoing, saying the charges are ``a frivolous complaint without legal basis.″

However, the lawmaker has banned his brother from lobbying his office.

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