New York Times ~ After two weeks of intense pressure from Republicans and newspaper editorials in his state and around the country, the leading Democrat on the House ethics committee resigned from the panel yesterday over criticism of how he had handled earmarked appropriations and his own finances.
The congressman, Alan B. Mollohan of West Virginia, has used his coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee to steer some $250 million over a decade to five nonprofit organizations that he set up. A conservative Washington-based group, the National Legal and Policy Center, has filed a complaint with federal prosecutors questioning those appropriations and the accuracy of Mr. Mollohan's personal financial disclosure forms as his wealth swelled significantly from 2000 to 2004.
"While I am confident that any charges or allegations that this organization and its Republican allies make against me will be as meritless and, indeed, as frivolous as those they have made thus far, they must be responded to fully," Mr. Mollohan wrote in a letter to the House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California. "I do not want these baseless allegations to divert attention from the important work that the House ethics committee must undertake in the remainder of this Congress, or to serve as an excuse for committee inaction."
Mr. Mollohan's letter described his resignation from the committee as temporary but did not say how long it might last.
The ethics committee is the only one in the House whose membership is evenly divided between the two parties. It has been stalemated for 16 months, taking no steps to look into Congressional corruption scandals, with Mr. Mollohan and the Republican chairman, Representative Doc Hastings of Washington, engaged in a standoff over rules and staffing.
Mr. Mollohan's resignation comes in an election year when Democrats have made ethics a central campaign theme. Ms. Pelosi replaced him with Representative Howard L. Berman of California, his predecessor as the committee's top Democrat from 1997 to 2003.
"This is an honor I could have done without," Mr. Berman said in a statement.
Mr. Hastings, in his own statement, said he liked Mr. Berman and was "confident that now we'll finally be able to get the ethics committee moving."
Mr. Mollohan has been a congressman since 1982, but is facing a very serious challenge this fall. Only yesterday Vice President Dick Cheney visited his district to raise money for the campaign against him.
On Thursday, a leading West Virginia newspaper, The Charleston Daily Mail, ran an editorial calling on Mr. Mollohan to quit the ethics panel, joining The Washington Post and The New York Times, among several other papers. And in taped telephone calls over the last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee urged tens of thousands of registered voters in four districts, including Mr. Mollohan's, to call him and tell him to do so.
The core question is whether there are any links between the special earmarked appropriations to the nonprofit groups and Mr. Mollohan's real estate investments, including land he owns on Bald Head Island, N.C., with Laura Kurtz Kuhns, a former aide who runs one of the groups and serves on the boards of two others. The National Legal and Policy Center maintains that Mr. Mollohan has undervalued or failed to list scores of investments on his financial disclosure forms over the years, an accusation he denies.
Mr. Mollohan has also been a central player in an effort to start a community bank focused on loans to high-tech companies. The bank's investors include two of the federally financed nonprofits, several people involved with the groups and many of his top campaign donors.
James L. Estep, president of the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation, said that it had put $500,000 toward the bank project and that a second of Mr. Mollohan's nonprofits, the Institute for Scientific Research, had pledged $250,000. That led Michael Hudnall, a West Virginia banker whom Mr. Mollohan recruited to lead the project as it began in 2004, to bow out.
"I'm uncomfortable when a nonprofit that is funded by my and your taxes invests in any venture that's not going to have a return for several years," Mr. Hudnall said in an interview.
James Cava, a leading Mollohan contributor who is heading what would be called Innova Bank, said Mr. Mollohan himself was not among some 20 investors who have signed on so far. Mr. Cava, who said the group had not yet filed an application for a charter with the state banking commission, would not disclose how much money had been committed.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Move Over Mr.Cunningham
Under Fire, Top Democrat Is Leaving Ethics Panel
Move Over Mr.Cunningham