Panel: Reyes may have broken ethics rules, law

Updated at: 11/28/2012 5:35 PM
By LARRY MARGASAK

(AP) WASHINGTON - An independent House panel has concluded that there is substantial reason to believe Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes violated ethics rules and federal law by conducting campaign meetings on House property and using campaign money to pay expenses for his daughter’s residence.

The Office of Congressional Ethics report was sent to the House Ethics Committee, which released the findings Wednesday and said it was continuing its own investigation of the eight-term Democratic lawmaker.

The office, run by a board of nonlegislators, investigates complaints and makes recommendations to the House Ethics Committee.

In Reyes’ case, the office recommended that the ethics committee investigate and subpoena Reyes, who refused to cooperate with the office’s probe. The House committee said the referral does not reflect any judgment that violations occurred.

Reyes spokesman, Jose Borjon, said in a statement that the lawmaker was "pleased that the Ethics Committee took no further action on this matter, while making clear that the fact of OCE’s referral did not indicate that any violation occurred."

The statement said Reyes "fully responded to these unsupported allegations and cooperated with the Ethics Committee to resolve them" while carrying out his official duties "with the highest level of integrity, strictly adhering to the rules governing" the House.

The allegations were first reported by the El Paso (Texas) Times in May. The independent panel’s report, adopted 6-0 in August but not publicly released at that time in accordance with House rules, found:

_Reyes’ 2011 Federal Election Commission disclosure reports show he used $469 in campaign funds for five "campaign meetings" in the members’ dining room in the Capitol.

_From 2008 through 2012, Reyes’ campaign committee paid approximately $13,000 in expenses relating to his daughter’s residence in Washington, where the congressman appears to have a campaign office. Expenses included pest control, Internet, telephone, cable and electricity.

The House Ethics Manual states that House property may not be used to conduct campaign or political activities, including strategy sessions.

Federal law makes it illegal for a federal employee, including the president, vice president or member of Congress, to solicit or receive donations _ or anything of value _ in property used for official government duties.

The manual says that if a House member’s campaign conducts a transaction with the member or someone in his or her family, campaign records must establish the need for the goods and services, and efforts must be made to establish a fair market value.

Federal law says political donations cannot be converted to public use, and a House rule bars a member from converting the funds to personal use in excess of legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)