Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON — If the House ethics committee doesn’t investigate allegations of arm-twisting during voting on a Medicare bill, a House Democratic leader said Tuesday that Democrats will file a formal complaint within a few weeks.
A formal complaint would compel the ethics committee to look into allegations that Rep. Nick Smith, R-Addison, was subjected to a bribe offer and threats in a high-pressure attempt to win his vote for Medicare legislation in November. The bill was a priority of the Bush administration and Republican congressional leadership.
A complaint also would break a seven-year truce between the political parties that have stifled ethics complaints.
“When serious questions are raised in the public’s sphere, I believe that the committee has a responsibility itself to look into these matters so we do not devolve into individual members throwing mud at one another,” said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Hoyer wrote House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., on Jan. 20 asking him to direct the ethics committee to investigate.
If Hastert doesn’t act, Hoyer said a Democrat would file a complaint “sooner rather than later. But sooner could be two weeks, three weeks, four weeks from now.”
Hastert spokesman John Feehery said the ethics committee was independent and that the speaker won’t direct them what to do.
“Given the statements of Mr. Smith that there is no need for an investigation, it seems curious that the Democrats would be pushing for this,” Feehery said. “It would be a shame if the Democrats are now starting to politicize the ethics process.”
Smith said in a Dec. 1 radio interview that he was promised more than $100,000 for his son’s congressional campaign in exchange for voting ‘yes’ during the Nov. 22 vote. He didn’t identify who made the offer.
A day after the calls for an investigation, Smith backpedaled, releasing a Dec. 4 statement saying, “No specific reference was made to money. ... I see no need for an ethics investigation, let alone a criminal investigation.”
Smith is retiring in January 2005 and his son, Brad Smith, also a Republican, is running to replace him in Michigan’s 7th Congressional District.
Smith has said all along that other lawmakers threatened to work against his son’s campaign if he voted no on the Medicare bill.
Smith ultimately voted no, saying the bill was too costly.