Ethics group says its complaint likely prompted inquiry into John Lewis' top aide

WASHINGTON -- The head of a right-leaning watchdog group said he is fairly certain his organization's previous complaint regarding the dual-employment status of U.S. Rep. John Lewis' top aide prompted a new House Ethics inquiry into the matter.

Matthew Whitaker, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, said it appears that FACT's January allegation that Michael Collins, Lewis’ longtime chief of staff, broke ethics rules that bar senior House staffers from serving as campaign officers is now being investigated by the House Ethics Committee.

“Public service is not a role where you can get wealthy or should be in the position to pull two salaries," Whitaker said. "Ultimately, it boils down to good government and following the rules"

The lawmaker-led ethics panel launched an inquiry into a House staffer named Michael Collins on Monday evening but did not specify which congressional office the man worked for or what exactly it was investigating. But a quick peak into House employment records show the Atlanta Democrat's top aide is the only current staffer with that name, and Lewis' office indirectly confirmed the investigation in a written statement.

“Mr. Collins would like reporters to refer to the committee’s release which states ‘the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension…does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred,'” Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones said.

The Ethics Committee declined to comment Monday.

FACT also included Lewis in its January complaint to the independent Office of Congressional Ethics for improperly hiring Collins as a top staffer and campaign treasurer. But the civil rights icon was not included on yesterday's list of people being investigated by the House Ethics Committee at the recommendation of the separate Office of Congressional Ethics, even as the House panel said it was looking into one of Lewis' colleagues for fundraising off of last year's gun control sit-in. FACT had filed a separate complaint against Lewis for his role in that effort last year.

“We haven’t seen anything more and we haven’t had any more contact with the committee, so it’s hard for me to know exactly kind of what the reasoning is," Whitaker said.

Asked by one of our Cox colleagues about the inquiry into Collins on Tuesday morning, Lewis declined to comment.

"Well that is something that is going on right now and I cannot talk about it," he said.

Jones said Monday that Collins "respects the process of ethics review and is cooperating with the committee."

He was previously cited by the panel in 2011 for failing to list $54,00 he made in consulting fees on his income tax returns and finance disclosure reports. Collins said the "mistakes were not intentional" and accepted “full responsibility” for the omission.

Read more: 

House Ethics appears to be investigating John Lewis’ top aide

Conservative group files ethics complaint against John Lewis, top aide

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...