Group again calls Pearce corrupt despite letter clearing him

Group again calls Pearce corrupt despite letter clearing him

Remember last year when a Washington group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, named U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce as one of the 22 most corrupt members of Congress?

The central allegation the group made was that Pearce failed to report his sale of the assets of Lea Fishing Tools, Inc. to Key Energy Services for more than 540,000 shares of stock in 2003. The group said Pearce was required to report the sale and his failure to do so likely violated the Ethics in Government Act.

A year later, the group released its new list of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress on Wednesday. U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson — who both made last year’s list for their roles in the U.S. attorney scandal — aren’t on this year’s list, but Pearce is.

But there’s no new allegation against Pearce. There’s a regurgitation of last year’s allegation about the asset sale.

The group cites two instances of corruption, or perceived corruption, in naming Pearce to its list of corrupt members of Congress. One is his deal as president of Lea Fishing Tools, Inc. in which Pearce made millions of dollars.

Rep. Pearce was the president of Lea Fishing Tools from which, in 2002, he drew a salary of $277,352 and held stock worth between $1 and $5 million. In the fall of 2003, Rep. Pearce sold the company’s assets to Key Energy, in exchange for 542,477 shares of common stock. The value of the stock at the time was $5.2 million. During an October 29, 2003 conference call, however, the president of Key Energy said Lea Fishing Tools was purchased for $12 million. Rep. Pearce failed to report the transaction on his 2003 financial disclosure report, and the $6.8 million discrepancy remains unresolved

There’s a new statement that, while Pearce claimed in September 2007 that he had sent a letter to the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct seeking confirmation that he did nothing wrong, he “did not address CREW’s allegations directly and did not make a copy of the letter public.” It also states that the House committee “has not published a response to Rep. Pearce’s query” on its Web site.

What CREW missed is that the committee did respond, 11 months ago, in a letter to Pearce stating that he had apparently done nothing wrong.

The Oct. 11, 2007, letter to Pearce from the committee, provided Wednesday by Pearce’s office, states that, based on facts Pearce presented to the bipartisan committee, “you were not required to report the 2003 sale of certain assets by Lea Fishing Tools to Key Energy Services.” That’s because the law doesn’t require disclosure of transactions that involve the assets of a business that is actively engaged in “a trade or business (as opposed to business such as a limited partnership established only to purchase real estate),” the letter states.

As I reported last year, Pearce failed to adequately address the charges leveled by CREW, choosing to instead keep his head down. He didn’t even send out a news release announcing the House committee’s letter after it was sent to him. To my knowledge, today is the first time the letter has been published by a news outlet.

But shouldn’t the onus be on the group accusing a congressman of illegal activity? The letter is a public record. The group says the House committee hasn’t published the letter on its Web site, but did it bother to ask the committee or Pearce whether there was a letter?

In an election year, such questions are fair. The director of CREW is a former staffer for two Democratic members of Congress — one of them the partisan Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. Schumer runs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is committed to helping Democrat Tom Udall defeat Pearce in the race to replace Domenici.

Last year, 18 of the 22 people the group targeted were Republicans. This year, 14 of the 20 are Republicans.

There’s one other allegation CREW makes against Pearce: that he may have advocated for drilling on the Otero Mesa in exchange for campaign contributions from those with ties to oil companies. The only new information CREW provided on Wednesday was that, a year after it first made the allegation, Pearce has taken additional money from oil companies.

When CREW first made the allegation last year, Pearce pointed out that he wasn’t a member of Congress when the Bureau of Land Management decided to support drilling on Otero Mesa.

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