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Review panel: Wis. rep likely broke House rules

Created: 10/01/2014 12:21 PM
By: MATTHEW DALY

WASHINGTON (AP) — A congressional review panel said there is "substantial reason to believe" that veteran Rep. Tom Petri of Wisconsin violated House rules by acting on behalf of two companies in which he owned significant amounts of stock, according to a report released Tuesday.

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics said Petri advocated for Oshkosh Corp. and the Manitowoc Co. despite owning at least $250,000 worth of Oshkosh stock and at least $100,000 worth of stock in Manitowoc. Both companies are based in Wisconsin.

Petri, a Republican who is retiring after 18 terms in the House, denied wrongdoing and said he routinely sought and took advice from the House Ethics Committee regarding his stock ownership. The committee approved his actions on each of those occasions, Petri said.

"Apparently, seeking advice, getting advice and following advice from the Ethics Committee is not good enough," Petri said in a statement.

Petri said the Office of Congressional Ethics seems intent on "imposing arbitrary new standards and rules" on actions he took years ago. "All members of the House are at risk by the creation and application of standards and rules that have no basis in law," he said.

The OCE is an outside organization that can refer cases to the Ethics Committee. The ethics committee said Tuesday it is continuing its investigation of Petri.

In its report, the OCE faulted Petri for pressing colleagues to help the Oshkosh Co. retain a $3 billion Pentagon contract to make tactical vehicles for the military. Separately, Petri worked with Manitowoc as it applied for an environmental exemption from the Obama administration regarding diesel engines used in cranes built by the company.

The Oshkosh case dates to 2009, when Petri and other members of the Wisconsin delegation pushed the Pentagon to move forward on a $3 billion contract awarded to Oshkosh to make tactical vehicles. The Government Accountability Office had upheld a protest by a losing bidder, and lawmakers in Texas were urging the Pentagon to support that company.

Petri said his actions on behalf of Oshkosh were not related to his stock ownership, but were an effort to help a major employer in his district. His office consulted with ethics committee staff before acting, Petri said.

But the review panel said in its report that on at least one occasion, advice from the ethics committee "appears to have been based on incomplete or inaccurate information."

Petri did not consult the ethics committee before calling the Secretary of the Army in December 2009, the report said, nor did he disclose his stock ownership to the Army secretary.

Army Secretary John McHugh told the panel he considered Petri's call routine and said knowing about Petri's stock ownership would not have affected his decision. Oshkosh retained the contract in 2010 after the Army reevaluated the proposals.

The review panel also said Petri did not consult the ethics committee before helping Manitowoc in its dealings with the Environmental Protection Agency. The company received an exemption from the EPA in 2012, an outcome that a Manitowoc executive said could not have happened without Petri's support, the report said.

The ethics committee's jurisdiction over Petri ends when he leaves office in early January.

(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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