Magazine article Insight on the News

A Matter of House Ethics

Magazine article Insight on the News

A Matter of House Ethics

Article excerpt

As House Minority Leader Richard and Gephardt is up to his neck in trouble over his $700,000 beach mansion. Gephardt's lawyer also has some things to explain.

As House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt responds to a multicount ethics complaint filed against him on Feb. 2 by Rep. Jennifer Dunn, the top lawyer defending him against the Washington Republican's charges may find himself under scrutiny for possible violations of ethics and criminal laws, Insight has learned.

The, lawyer, Robert F. Bauer, has had a long relationship with Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat, including representing the congressman before the Federal Election Commission, or FEC, for the failed 1988 Gephardt for President committee, and separately before the FEC on behalf of the Gephardt reelection committee and the congressman's leadership political-action committee. Bauer's law firm, Perkins Coie, has received tens of thousands of dollars from political campaign entities operated or controlled by Gephardt, according to reports of expenditures on file with the FEC.

Bauer also was listed on the public payroll for several years, at least between 1991-1994, as a Capitol Hill employee for Gephardt, working principally in the congressman's leadership offices. In this capacity, as an assistant" to the congressman, Bauer has been paid about $1,200 per month, according to quarterly reports of expenditures made public by the Clerk of the House for most of the early nineties.

Without using any names, Insight asked one of Washington's leading ethics lawyers to review details of Bauer's work before the FEC on behalf of the congressman's political committees while also being paid by the taxpayers "as an employee for the congressman. "It would appear that you have uncovered a variety of criminal violations"' the lawyer replied. A second ethics specialist says, "On the surface, these are technical violations of law but they are substantial in their scope and could be prosecuted." He shook his head as he added, "And they often are."

Such conclusions are based on Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Sections 203 and 205, which are part of the criminal laws that have been incorporated by the House into its ethics manual. Specifically, these sections of Title 18 bar federal employees from representing any person or organization before any federal agency with or without compensation. The penalties are stiff: Each violation is punishable by between one to five years' imprisonment and/or a fine of $50,000.

"The rules are quite clear on this"' says a federal attorney familiar with public-integrity issues. "So long as a person receives compensation as a federal employee, he or she is barred from representing anyone before a federal agency. There are no exceptions that I know of, though often we see people trying to argue these cases on technicalities or they say they did not know the rules"' the federal attorney says. "Sometimes they are right"' he added. "However, but not often."

Bauer, reputed to be an expert on ethics and campaign laws, has represented Gephardt before the FEC on numerous occasions in recent years. Such legal representations, based on documents reviewed by Insight, show Bauer presenting himself as either "general counsel" or "counsel" for Gephardt political committees at the same time that he was a congressional employee during the early nineties.

In addition to possible violations of Title 18 and House ethics rules, say the public-integrity and ethics lawyers contacted by Insight, Bauer may have violated an informal Justice Department legal opinion that prohibits federal employees who are lawyers from receiving any share of monies that their law firms derive from representing anybody before a federal agency while the employee is on the public payroll and, in some cases, for up to two years after leaving government service.

It's a pretty stiff set of rules"' says a high-ranking federal ethics lawyer. "The idea behind all these rules is to make certain that there never is a question about an appearance problem. …

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