Ethics Probe of Rep. Tom Petri Announced

Retiring Wisconsin Republican had requested an inquiry earlier this year.

PARIS, FRANCE: French President Jacques Chirac (6thR) poses with (L to R) US ambassador in France Howard Leach, congressman of Michigan Joe Knollenberg and his wife, Mrs Amory Houghton and her husband, congressman of New York Amory Houghton, French deputy and chairman of the French congressional friendship group with US Axel Poniatowski, Mrs Jim Oberstar, her husband, congressman of Minnesota Jim Oberstar, member of the French Senate Paul Girod, US congresswoman of Connecticut Nancy Johnson and congressman of Wisconsin Tom Petri, 16 February 2004 at the Elysee palace in Paris. AFP PHOTO MEHDI FEDOUACH (Photo credit should read MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
Aug. 18, 2014, 11:31 a.m.

Without com­ment­ing on de­tails, the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee on Monday said it is re­view­ing a mat­ter in­volving Rep. Tom Petri””something the Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an him­self re­ques­ted amid ques­tions of a po­ten­tial con­flict over his ad­vocacy for a de­fense con­tract­or in his dis­trict in which he owned stock.

“I look for­ward to the Com­mit­tee on Eth­ics com­plet­ing its re­view,” said Petri, who is re­tir­ing at the end of the year after 18 terms, in a state­ment. “I re­main con­fid­ent that the com­mit­tee will find that I ac­ted prop­erly, and that I reas­on­ably sought, re­lied on, and fol­lowed the com­mit­tee’s ad­vice and that I com­plied with House rules.”

Petri is now the House’s third-most-seni­or Re­pub­lic­an. Only Reps. Don Young of Alaska and Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner of Wis­con­sin have more seni­or­ity than Petri in the House GOP.

Petri an­nounced in April that he would not run for an­oth­er term.

Monday’s an­nounce­ment from the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee was the first of­fi­cial con­firm­a­tion that Petri, 74, was, in fact, be­ing scru­tin­ized by the pan­el. The joint state­ment by the com­mit­tee chair­man, Mike Con­away, and the pan­el’s top Demo­crat, Linda Sanc­hez, said the case was re­ferred by the Of­fice of Con­gres­sion­al Eth­ics on Ju­ly 2.

The OCE serves as an in­de­pend­ent watch­dog that does an ini­tial vet­ting of eth­ics com­plaints.

The state­ment from Con­away and Sanc­hez said the mere dis­clos­ure of such a con­tin­ued in­vest­ig­a­tion does not in it­self in­dic­ate any vi­ol­a­tion has oc­curred. The state­ment also said that the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee would an­nounce its next course of ac­tion in the case by Sept. 30.

Typ­ic­ally, un­der House rules, the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee would then de­cide wheth­er it would ex­pand the two re­views by im­pan­el­ing spe­cial in­vest­ig­at­ive sub­com­mit­tees. These sub­pan­els would form­ally con­sider wheth­er House rules were broken and, if so, pos­sibly re­com­mend pun­ish­ment. But the time frame for such ex­ten­ded ac­tion is run­ning short with Petri’s an­nounced re­tire­ment.

Still, it was Petri him­self who on Feb. 16 wrote to the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee ask­ing for a form­al re­view of news art­icles that had ques­tioned his own­er­ship of stock in com­pan­ies and his ac­tions on their be­half.

“It is my hon­or and duty to ad­voc­ate on be­half of those who live and work in my area: I am dis­tressed by the in­nu­endo in the art­icles,” Petri wrote, en­clos­ing those stor­ies with his let­ter. “To end any ques­tions, I am re­quest­ing that the com­mit­tee form­ally re­view the mat­ter and re­port back,” he wrote.

The art­icles he at­tached in­cluded those by the Gan­nett Wash­ing­ton bur­eau that in Feb­ru­ary tied Petri’s ad­vocacy for Oshkosh Corp., a de­fense con­tract­or in his dis­trict, to his own­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in stock in the com­pany.

The Gan­nett in­vest­ig­a­tion con­cluded that his stock value had in­creased by 30 per­cent while he pushed Oskosh’s in­terests at the Pentagon and on Cap­it­ol Hill. That in­cluded de­fend­ing the award­ing of a $3 bil­lion con­tract in 2009 from the U.S. Army to pro­duce 23,000 ar­mored trucks and trail­ers””when com­pet­it­ors and oth­er de­tract­ors de­man­ded it be re­con­sidered.

The day after a Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice re­view even­tu­ally de­term­ined that the Army should do more eval­u­ation””but did not re­com­mend can­celing the con­tract or de­term­ine the price was un­real­ist­ic””the Gan­nett story said the con­gress­man bought even more Oshkosh stock. And his ad­vocacy for the com­pany con­tin­ued in oth­er av­en­ues.

That re­port led one out­side gov­ern­ment-watch group, Pub­lic Cit­izen, to urge the OCE to be­gin a re­view of the po­ten­tial con­flict.

In his let­ter in Feb­ru­ary to the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee, Petri said it was “re­gret­table, but not sur­pris­ing” that many have been “con­fused” by the art­icles.

He said his in­vest­ments had been re­por­ted pub­licly in an­nu­al dis­clos­ure forms, and that his ac­tions as a stock­hold­er “are no dif­fer­ent than any oth­er stock­hold­er based solely on pub­lic in­form­a­tion.”

“My ad­vocacy has been un­der­taken openly,” he wrote, adding that he has even “from time to time, con­tac­ted the com­mit­tee for guid­ance on these is­sues.”

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