Ethics Committee Will Continue Investigation of Tom Petri

The panel is looking into conflict-of-interest allegations against the retiring lawmaker.

  :WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 27: Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI) speaks during a news conference to announce the introduction of 'The Post-9/11 Troops to Teachers Enhancement Act' at the U.S. Capitol October 27, 2009 in Washington, DC. The bill will expand the Troops to Teachers program by reducing length of military service requirements for participants, expanding the number of school districts at which troops may receive a stipend to teach and other changes. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) :WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 27: Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI) speaks during a news conference to announce the introduction of 'The Post-9/11 Troops to Teachers Enhancement Act' at the U.S. Capitol October 27, 2009 in Washington, DC. The bill will expand the Troops to Teachers program by reducing length of military service requirements for participants, expanding the number of school districts at which troops may receive a stipend to teach and other changes. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)  
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
Sept. 30, 2014, 2:19 p.m.

Re­tir­ing Rep. Tom Petri will con­tin­ue to be scru­tin­ized by the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee re­gard­ing wheth­er he broke House con­flict-of-in­terest rules in his of­fi­cial deal­ings on be­half of two com­pan­ies in which he owned stock.

In an­noun­cing that it is not dis­miss­ing the case, the se­cret­ive com­mit­tee also re­leased a re­port Tues­day from an­oth­er in­vest­ig­at­ive agency that—for the first time pub­licly—de­tails those ac­cus­a­tions against the Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an.

Among rev­el­a­tions from the in­de­pend­ent Of­fice of Con­gres­sion­al Eth­ics re­port is that the mat­ters un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion go bey­ond Petri’s ef­forts between 2008 and 2013 on be­half of Oshkosh Corp., a de­fense con­tract­or in his dis­trict in which he owned hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in stock.

The re­port also raises ques­tions about his of­fi­cial ac­tions in­volving an­oth­er com­pany in which Petri owns stock, the Man­ito­woc Com­pany, which makes cranes and food-ser­vice equip­ment.

OCE serves as an in­de­pend­ent watch­dog that does an ini­tial vet­ting of eth­ics com­plaints be­fore for­ward­ing them to the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee for fur­ther ac­tion.

Petri, 74, re­spon­ded force­fully and an­grily Tues­day against the OCE in a re­sponse re­leased by his of­fice. He called its find­ings flawed, say­ing his ac­tions had been guided by ad­vice from the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee it­self, and chal­lenged the com­mit­tee to wrap up the case by the end of the year be­fore he leaves Con­gress.

Petri, who is in his 18th term, an­nounced in April that he would not run for reelec­tion.

“I am deeply dis­ap­poin­ted that the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee has not yet re­solved this case once and for all,” Petri said Tues­day.

“But I re­main hope­ful that the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee—and any­one ob­ject­ively re­view­ing the re­cord—will con­clude that I have ac­ted prop­erly and com­plied with House rules,” he con­tin­ued. “Any sug­ges­tion to the con­trary by the Of­fice of Con­gres­sion­al Eth­ics re­port is un­true, biased, and in­com­plete.”

“Al­low­ing the OCE re­port to stand as the so-called last word is cer­tainly un­fair to my re­cord of pub­lic ser­vice,” ad­ded Petri.

But it re­mains un­clear wheth­er the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee will have enough time to com­plete a full re­view—par­tic­u­larly if an in­vest­ig­at­ive sub­com­mit­tee is de­term­ined to be war­ran­ted—be­fore he leaves of­fice.

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

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.

In the re­fer­ral re­port to the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee, the OCE notes that the con­gress­man as of Decem­ber 2006 re­por­ted own­ing between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of stock in Oshkosh. By Decem­ber 2013, he re­por­ted own­ing between $500,000 and $1 mil­lion worth of stock in Oshkosh.

As of Decem­ber 2006, Petri re­por­ted own­ing between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of stock in Man­ito­woc. By Decem­ber 2013, he re­por­ted own­ing between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of Man­ito­woc stock.

The re­port goes on to de­tail its find­ings re­gard­ing the way Petri worked with oth­er Wis­con­sin law­makers to de­fend the award­ing of a $3 bil­lion con­tract to Oshkosh in 2009 to pro­duce ar­mored trucks and trail­ers—as de­tract­ors, in­clud­ing Texas law­makers up­set that a com­pany in their state had lost out—pushed for the con­tract to be re­con­sidered. That push in­cluded a let­ter to the sec­ret­ary of De­fense on be­half of a com­pany based in Sealy, Texas.

In re­sponse, Oshkosh sought as­sist­ance from the Wis­con­sin del­eg­a­tion, in­clud­ing Petri.

“I be­lieve we checked every step with the eth­ics com­mit­tee. “¦ We wouldn’t have taken any ac­tion without reach­ing out in ad­vance. It was al­ways done through the Chief of Staff,” Petri is quoted as telling OCE of­fi­cials when asked wheth­er eth­ic­al guid­ance had been sought be­fore­hand.

The OCE re­port de­tails how Petri at some point in 2009 had a con­ver­sa­tion on the House floor with the then-House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber about the con­tract and the Texas protest.

Petri’s of­fice also is de­scribed as hav­ing co­ordin­ated an Oc­to­ber 2009 let­ter from the Wis­con­sin con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tion to the sec­ret­ary of De­fense, on be­half of Oshkosh.

But that del­eg­a­tion let­ter to the sec­ret­ary of De­fense did not in­clude any dis­clos­ure of Petri’s per­son­al fin­an­cial in­terest in Oshkosh, says the re­port.

And the OCE con­tends that as­sur­ances made be­fore­hand to the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee that the let­ter would not men­tion Oshkosh spe­cific­ally were not kept—the let­ter to the sec­ret­ary did men­tion Oshkosh and “its his­tor­ic­al re­la­tion­ship with the De­part­ment of De­fense.”

“In sum, al­though Rep­res­ent­at­ive Petri and his con­gres­sion­al staff sought Com­mit­tee on Eth­ics ad­vice and re­ceived Com­mit­tee ap­prov­al pri­or to sev­er­al com­mu­nic­a­tions with ex­ec­ut­ive branch of­fi­cials and House com­mit­tee lead­er­ship on be­half of Oshkosh,” the OCE ac­know­ledged, non­ethe­less “in sev­er­al in­stances, ad­vice was not sought or the ad­vice provided was based on in­com­plete or in­ac­cur­ate in­form­a­tion.”

Re­gard­ing Man­ito­woc, the OCE re­port says Petri worked to get the com­pany hard­ship re­lief from en­vir­on­ment­al rules im­pact­ing dies­el en­gines used in its cranes, which the com­pany said could cost it roughly $500 mil­lion in rev­en­ue and lead to lay­offs.

The En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency of­fi­cial who worked with Petri’s staff on this mat­ter told the OCE that Petri’s stock own­er­ship was not dis­closed to him dur­ing the ini­tial con­tacts or in the sub­sequent let­ter from the con­gress­man on the mat­ter.

But in his blis­ter­ing re­sponse, Petri noted, “In fact, I have not sold a single share of Oshkosh or Man­ito­woc stock in the past five years, or ever.”

“I have al­ways taken pains to dis­close my in­vest­ments pub­licly, as re­quired by the rules of the House, and they have been re­por­ted reg­u­larly in the loc­al press,” he said. “In­deed, I was proud to let people know I owned stock in sev­er­al of our dis­trict’s largest em­ploy­ers.”

Petri ad­ded, “The only reas­on I—and the en­tire Wis­con­sin del­eg­a­tion—be­came in­volved in the Oshkosh Cor­por­a­tion case five years ago was be­cause the Texas del­eg­a­tion, rep­res­ent­ing a com­pany from its state, tried to step in and ex­ert polit­ic­al in­flu­ence—after its com­pany lost the bid to Oshkosh. I and my Wis­con­sin col­leagues were not go­ing to let the 6th Dis­trict suf­fer be­cause an­oth­er state wanted to play polit­ics.

“The only reas­on that my staff and I be­came in­volved in mat­ters re­gard­ing Man­ito­woc was to en­sure fair treat­ment and to ob­tain status up­dates. The ac­tions taken were fully in keep­ing with House rules,” he said.

The Eth­ics Com­mit­tee could have dropped the Petri mat­ter out­right if it found no reas­on to con­tin­ue with its in­quiry—but it did not do so, and it pub­licly re­leased the OCE’s re­port of its own find­ings.

Even so, com­mit­tee Chair­man Mi­chael Con­away, R-Texas, and rank­ing mem­ber Linda Sanc­hez, D-Cal­if., in a joint state­ment on Tues­day stopped short of an­noun­cing that a spe­cial in­vest­ig­at­ive sub­com­mit­tee with sub­poena powers would be formed to ex­pand the in­quiry.

Any form­al re­com­mend­a­tion in­to wheth­er Petri broke House rules and, if so, should pos­sibly re­ceive pun­ish­ment, ul­ti­mately would have to go through such a sub-pan­el.

“The com­mit­tee notes that the mere fact of con­duct­ing fur­ther re­view “¦ does not it­self in­dic­ate that any vi­ol­a­tion has oc­curred, or re­flect the judg­ment on be­half of the com­mit­tee,” Con­away and Sanc­hez said, provid­ing no time frame for when an up­date will oc­cur. Rather, the mat­ter has been des­ig­nated for fur­ther re­view un­der Com­mit­tee Rule 18(a), a des­ig­na­tion that has en­abled a num­ber of oth­er eth­ics cases against Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans to lan­guish, some for years, without fur­ther com­ment.

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