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Mel Watt cleared by ethics panel

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By Jim Morrill
jmorrill@charlotteobserver.com

A day after an ethics panel dismissed allegations against him, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mel Watt said having his ethics questioned was "humbling and emotionally draining."

"After practicing law for 22 years and serving in Congress for 18 years, it has been very humbling and emotionally draining to have been for the first time in my life the focus of a review ... that implied or called into question my personal or professional honesty and integrity," he said in a statement Wednesday.

Watt was among eight House members investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics for fundraising activities that took place around the time of a key vote last year on financial regulatory overhaul.

Watt, of Charlotte, chairs a House financial services subcommittee and took part in House-Senate negotiations for the financial overhaul legislation.

He held a fundraiser two days before withdrawing an amendment that would have put auto dealerships under the regulatory umbrella of a consumer financial protection agency. Several financial firms made contributions to his campaign around the same time.

The independent ethics panel recommended further investigation of three lawmakers - two Republicans and a Democrat - to see if their contributions were linked to their votes. It recommended no additional probes of Watt or the other four.

The ethics panel unanimously recommended dismissal of the allegations against Watt.

"There is not substantial reason to believe that Rep. Watt solicited or accepted contributions in a manner which gave the appearance that special treatment or access was provided to donors or that contributions were linked to an official act," its ruling said.

Watt said the decision confirms what he's said all along: that he did nothing wrong.

"While the decision of the Office of Congressional Ethics cannot restore my reputation, I am thankful that the review has been completed and that it concluded that I did nothing improper or unethical," he said. "I can again turn my full attention to serving the residents of the 12th District."
***
News & Observer staff writer Barbara Barrett contributed



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April 23, 2014
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