WASHINGTON, DC — A group of academics and civic organizations is calling on the House Ethics Committee to release an independent investigation into whether Azerbaijan paid for House lawmakers to travel to Baku in a potential violation of House rules against trips funded by foreign governments, according to a report published in foreignpolicy.com by David Francis David.
In January, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent body charged with determining if House members break rules governing lawmaker’s conduct, initiated its review of the 2013 trip to Baku by 10 members of Congress and 32 staff members. It submitted its report to the Ethics Committee in May. On July 31, the committee announced its own investigation had found no wrongdoing on behalf of the lawmakers and their staff, and refused to make OCE’s report public.
Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at the advocacy group Public Citizen, said it was the first time the Ethics Committee has not released an OCE report on active members of Congress.
“This failure by the ethics committee to release the OCE report can fundamentally undermine OCE,” Holman told Foreign Policy Wednesday. “OCE’s strength is the fact that it can gather information and tell the public what it found. It’s what made the ethics process work.”
Public Citizen is one of the 10 signatories on a letter, released Wednesday, calling for the committee to make the OCE report public.
Lingering over the controversy surrounding the trip is a May 13, 2015 Washington Post report about the confidential OCE investigation, which had determined “lawmakers and their staff members received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of travel expenses, silk scarves, crystal tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs valued at $2,500 to $10,000…Airfare for the lawmakers and some of their spouses cost $112,899, travel invoices show.”
The Post also reported that the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, SOCAR, channeled $750,000 through U.S.-based nonprofits to hide the source of funding for the conference.