Congressional Accountability Project
1611 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 3A
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 296-2787
fax (202) 833-2406

June 14, 1999

The Honorable Joel Hefley, Chairman
The Honorable Zoe Lofgren, Ranking Minority Member
Investigative Subcommittee in the Matter of Representative Bud Shuster
Committee on Standards of Official Conduct
U.S. House of Representatives
HT-2, The Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

RE: Appointment of Outside Counsel in the Matter of Representative Bud Shuster

Dear Chairman Hefley and Ranking Minority Member Lofgren:

More than two and a half years ago, the Congressional Accountability Project filed an ethics complaint against House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster (R-PA),(1) and called for an investigation, conducted by outside counsel, into the tangled web of legislative, political, financial and personal ties between Chairman Shuster and Ann Eppard, a transportation lobbyist and fundraiser for Chairman Shuster.

On November 14, 1997, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct ("Ethics Committee") established an Investigative Subcommittee ("Subcommittee") in the matter of Representative Shuster. At that time, the Congressional Accountability Project made a second formal request for the appointment of outside counsel, because of the conflict of interest between your responsibilities to the Shuster investigation and to your own constituents.(2)

Regrettably, the Subcommittee proceeded without benefit of outside counsel, in spite of the conflict of interest. An article in today's Roll Call exposes the flaws in that decision. The article documents a highly unusual provision that Chairman Hefley obtained from Chairman Shuster in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill -- at the same time that Chairman Hefley was charged with investigating Chairman Shuster.(3) According to Roll Call, "Hefley's provision . . . may restore $1.6 million a year in federal funding to the [Denver Centennial] airport while granting the local government there the authority to restrict additional flights" -- a matter of great interest to some of Chairman Hefley's constituents. This favor from Chairman Shuster to Chairman Hefley is a fine example of why outside counsel was needed from the start.

Chairman Hefley defends his work on the airport issue, arguing that "These are issues that are important to my constituents. You can't divorce yourself from those issues."

That is precisely our point. You have a conflict of interest. You cannot represent your constituents' interests in roads, bridges and airports, while simultaneously conducting a credible investigation of the powerful Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, because he largely controls the fate of these projects. That is why outside counsel is important; it reduces the conflict.

Thus far, the Ethics Committee's proceedings in the Shuster case have been lacking. After thirty-two months, neither the Ethics Committee nor its Subcommittee have produced a final or even interim report, although they have expanded the scope of the investigation. Nevertheless, the investigation is progressing very slowly.(4) The Ethics Committee's failure to publish its own rules in the Congressional Record until May 18th was a major embarrassment that could jeopardize what little work the investigative subcommittee has accomplished in the 106th Congress. This fits the typical pattern of Ethics Committee blundering, delay, incompetence and investigative failure, particularly when probing powerful House Members without benefit of outside counsel.

The Subcommittee's unwillingness to hire outside counsel in the Shuster matter is striking, because outside counsels are commonplace in Ethics Committee investigations. According to former Ethics Committee Chief Counsel Ralph Lotkin, the Ethics Committee has authorized outside counsels in nearly half of its ethics cases since it was created in 1968.(5) Why is the Subcommittee so reluctant to retain a competent outside investigator to head up this complex, multifaceted investigation of a powerful committee chairman, particularly given the Subcommittee's scant work product to date? The appointment of outside counsel is no rash step; it does not undermine the self-regulation of congressional ethics, nor does it eliminate the Subcommittee's ultimate control and oversight of the investigation. There is no credible fear of Ken Starr-like cowboy freelancing; after all, the Subcommittee and the Ethics Committee retain control, among other things, of the issuance of subpoenas.

Others have supported the hiring of outside counsel in the Shuster case:

Monroe Freedman, distinguished professor of legal ethics at Hofstra University, called Chairman Hefley's conflict of interest "blatant and egregious" and the appearance regarding Centennial Airport "about as bad as could be." To date, the defining characteristic of the Ethics Committee's investigation of Chairman Shuster is torpor. It is time -- finally -- to appoint outside counsel, to revive the flagging Shuster investigation, and to ensure that it is carried out in competent, speedy and reliable fashion.

Sincerely,
 

Gary Ruskin
Director
 

cc: The Honorable Jim McCrery
The Honorable Chet Edwards


ENDNOTES

1. Ethics complaint against Representative Bud Shuster, September 5, 1996.

2. Correspondence to Subcommittee Chairman Joel Hefley and Ranking Minority Member Zoe Lofgren, November 19, 1997.

3. Damon Chappie, "Aviation Bill Links Hefley's Work for Constituents, Ethics Duties." Roll Call, June 14, 1999.

4. Damon Chappie, "Ethics Mix-Up Raising Questions Failure to Publish Rules Could Endanger Probes." Roll Call, May 20, 1999. The Shuster investigation is moving "'at a glacier -like pace,' according a source familiar with the probe."

5. Ralph L. Lotkin, "Outside Counsel Not Out of Ordinary for Ethics Panel." Roll Call, June 5, 1995. "In approximately half (22 of 46) of the cases undertaken since its creation in 1968, the panel used an outside counsel."

6. "House Ethics Charade." The New York Times, November 21, 1997.

7. "Independent Counsel." Roll Call, December 1, 1997.