More “Change” from the Democrats
Aide denies Thompson charges
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.)
The chief aide to House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson has denied an allegation that Thompson used his committee’s consideration of expensive new rules on credit card companies to extract campaign contributions from the companies.
Lanier Avant, staff director of the committee as well as chief of staff in Thompson’s office, said the allegations, reported in The Washington Post, were “baseless” and said he is unaware of any probe of the panel’s activities or Thompson by the House ethics committee.
The Post reported that Thompson collected $15,000 in campaign donations from credit card companies and their lobbyists after the March hearing. No legislation on the credit cards was introduced, according to the Post.
“The way we handle the business of the committee is in line with every federal law and doesn’t violate any ethics guidelines,” Avant said in an interview with Politico.com. “We know where all the problem spots are and steer clear of them.” Avant added that “all the oversight work we do [on Homeland Security] is totally separate and apart from anything we do on fundraising or the boss’s own personal political agenda. That’s totally not connected.”
The Post story also said the committee’s former policy director, Veronique Pluviose-Fenton, claimed she was “fired after complaining to her bosses that a lobbyist made improper requests of staff members.”
“I have never received a complaint like that from any current or former staffers, including [Pluviose-Fenton],” Avant said. “The chairman is on record saying he’s never received any complaints on stuff like that, and the reason is because we haven’t put staff in a position to be asked to do something” unethical. “She never complained to me about anything,” Avant added when asked about Pluviose-Fenton’s claim. Avant said Pluviose-Fenton was let go by the Homeland Security Committee earlier this year, but he declined to comment on the details of her termination.
House payroll records show Pluviose-Fenton started with the committee in December 2005. She was listed as minority counsel during 2006, and when Thompson became chairman of the Homeland Security panel in 2007, she served as policy director. Pluviose-Fenton earned nearly $147,000 in that position in 2008.
Pluviose-Fenton was mentioned in a leaked House ethics committee document from the week of July 27-31, which was recently published by the Post. “Staff person dismissed from position following raising concerns about requests made by certain lobbyist,” the entry reads, adding that a “summary memorandum” was being prepared. The lobbyist in question was not identified in the ethics committee document.
The committee declined to comment on the allegations against Thompson and Avant or whether it was investigating the Mississippi Democrat. But no investigative subcommittee has been created on Thompson, and the committee has not received any recommendation to do so from the Office of Congressional Ethics, the independent ethics watchdog.