Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

FEBRUARY 28, 2006
12:52 PM

CONTACT: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
Naomi Seligman Steiner, 202-588-5565

CREW Files Ethics Complaint Against Rep. Sam Johnson; Breaks House Ethics Rules Through Improper Use of IRS

WASHINGTON - February 28 - Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) forwarded a complaint to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, better known as the Ethics Committee, against Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) for using executive branch resources, namely the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), for partisan political purposes. The complaint alleges that Rep. Johnson asked the IRS to audit Texans for Public Justice (TPJ) as punishment for the organization's role in sparking the Texas criminal investigation of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Although outside groups are barred from filing complaints, CREW decided to forward this complaint to the Committee because under the long-standing ethics "truce" in the House, Members have been directed by their leaders not to file ethics complaints against other Members.

CREW released its complaint in the hope that a Member of the House will certify that the complaint has a good faith basis and forward it to the Ethics Committee, stating that the complaint merits the Committee's consideration.

CREW based its complaint on a Feb. 27, 2006 story by R. Jeffrey Smith in The Washington Post as well as documents released by TPJ. On Aug. 3, 2004, Rep. Johnson sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson, claiming that he had "uncovered some disturbing information" about Texans for Public Justice (TPJ).

Rep. Johnson requested an investigation into TPJ and an affiliated foundation after Barnaby W. Zall, a Washington lawyer with ties to Rep. DeLay sent Rep. Johnson a letter complaining about TPJ and noting that Rep. Johnson's subcommittee had "jurisdiction to review the Internal Revenue Service's supervision of tax-exempt organizations." Zall alleged that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle was part of an effort, along with TPJ, by Texas Democrats to force Rep. DeLay to step down as Majority Leader. Zall argued that the IRS should investigate TPJ for "engaging in an apparent attempt to influence national politics."

After receiving Rep. Johnson's complaint, the IRS conducted an audit of TPJ determining, after an extensive review of TPJ's records, that the groups continued to qualify for tax-exempt status.

CREW's complaint alleges that Rep. Johnson's actions violated 31 U.S.C. Section 1301(a), which provides that official funds are to be used only for purposes for which they are appropriated; the Code of Ethics in Government Service, which requires all government employees to uphold the laws of the United States and which prohibits government employees from providing special favors to anyone; and House Rule 23, which requires Members to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects creditably on the House.

Coincidentally, in October 2004, the House ethics committee admonished Rep. DeLay for using executive branch resources for partisan purposes when he had staff contact the FAA to locate an airplane carrying Texas state legislators.

Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, stated, "Rep. Johnson abused the public trust by using the power of his office to harass an organization which had taken a position with which he disagreed. Such actions are specifically prohibited by federal law and ethics rules and the House ethics committee should immediately commence an investigation into Rep. Johnson's disgraceful conduct." Sloan continued, "After seeing the NAACP, a Pasadena church and now Texans for Public Justice investigated, no one can doubt that the IRS has been politicized to a degree not seen since the dark days of the Nixon administration."

A copy of CREW's complaint is available on its Web site,