Category Archives: Ethics

Missouri Republicans File Ethics Complaint against McCaskill

Missouri Republicans “have filed a complaint against Sen. Claire McCaskill with the Senate Ethics Committee, calling for an investigation into whether the Missouri Democrat improperly used taxpayer funding to cover the cost of at least one airplane trip to a political event,” POLITICO reports.

McCaskill, who is up for reelection in 2012, paid more than $88,000 to the Treasury Department last week following a POLITICO report that she had used taxpayer funds from her Senate office account to repay nearly 90 flights on a private plane that she co-owned with her husband and other investors.

While McCaskill and her aides adamantly denied any ethical violations despite the payment to Treasury, POLITICO later reported that at least one of the flights was purely political in nature.

On Saturday, March 3, 2007, McCaskill flew from St. Louis to Hannibal, Mo., and back, for the local Democratic Party’s annual Hannibal Days. McCaskill billed taxpayers $1,220.44 for the trip, according to public records. McCaskill aides have acknowledged that the event was only political in nature, not an official function for a senator. Congressional ethics rules and federal law bar the use of taxpayer funds to cover the cost of political events.


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McCaskill to Repay Cost of Charter Flights

Senator Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) “office said Wednesday she plans to pay the U.S. Treasury $88,000 to cover the cost of charter flights she organized through a company in which she and her husband have an ownership stake,” the AP reports.

The Missouri Democrat’s husband, Joe Shepard, incorporated Sunset Cove Associates LLC in 2002. The company owns an eight-seat, twin-engine plane which, according to records, McCaskill’s Senate office has paid to use 89 times out of taxpayer funds.

News of McCaskill’s use of the plane was first reported by on Wednesday. The announcement that she would reimburse taxpayers came after the story was published online, out of an “abundance of caution,” according to spokeswoman Maria Speiser.

Speiser said McCaskill and her husband did not make any money by using Sunset Cove Associates to charter her flights. The most recent financial disclosure report on record, from 2006, shows that McCaskill valued her family’s stake in Sunset Cove as between $50,000 and $100,000 but reported making less than $200 profit from it.

The use of chartered flights “by lawmakers is common and, given demands on their time, can sometimes be an occupational requirement.”

But McCaskill’s use of a plane that is owned by a company her family holds a stake in is unusual. Senate rules do not specify whether senators can be reimbursed for use of a personal aircraft for official use, although staffers and senators are reimbursed when they use their cars for personal business.

Update (3/11): According to Ben Smith, McCaskill’s spokeswoman has confirmed “that the Missouri Senator billed taxpayers for a purely political travel on a private plane co-owned by her family, a violation of Congressional ethics rules that deepens questions around her use of the plane.”

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Senate Investigators Interview Coburn on Ensign Inquiry

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) “was recently interviewed by Senate investigators about Sen. John Ensign’s sex scandal, the latest sign that the Senate ethics inquiry into the Nevada Republican is intensifying, sources tell POLITICO.”

Coburn’s appearance before the secretive panel comes as the Senate Select Committee on Ethics announced Feb. 1 that it would take the unusual step of appointing a special counsel, Carol Elder Bruce, to oversee the probe.

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Ethics Committee Hires Special Counsel for Ensign Inquiry

The Senate Ethics Committee “has appointed a special counsel to review allegations against Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign, the panel announced Tuesday,” Roll Call reports.

Attorney Carol Elder Bruce, a partner at K&L Gates, will serve as special counsel in what the committee described as a “preliminary investigation.”

“The purpose of a preliminary inquiry is to determine whether there is substantial credible evidence that a violation within the Committee’s jurisdiction has occurred,” Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said in a statement.

Ensign has faced “allegations that he tried to cover up an affair with the spouse of his former top aide.”

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Ethics Committee Dismisses Complaint against Dodd

The Senate Ethics Committee “has dismissed a complaint alleging that Sen. Christopher Dodd obtained a cottage in Ireland at a low price as an improper gift from a businessman,” the AP reports.

The Connecticut Democrat says the allegations by a conservative group were baseless and politically motivated.

Judicial Watch questioned last year whether the price Dodd paid for the seaside home in County Galway was so low that it amounted to a gift from real estate businessman Edward "Bucky" Kessinger.

The committee said the evidence does not support the allegations. Dodd said in his statement late Wednesday that he appreciates the committee’s conclusion.

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