Times Reporter

September 16, 2006

Ney’s future in Congress uncertain

By Paul E. Kostyu and Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

COLUMBUS – U.S. Rep. Bob Ney’s troubles with the law could cost Ohio taxpayers another $500,000 if he resigns or is expelled from Congress after pleading guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges.

Ney, R-Heath, has not said whether he plans to resign after he formally pleads guilty on Oct. 13.

But if he leaves the House before the end of the year, Gov. Bob Taft, a fellow Republican, has the legal authority to decide whether to hold another special election to fill the rest of Ney’s term. Such an election would cost taxpayers $500,000, according to James Lee, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

Ney’s attorney William Lawler was noncommittal when asked if Ney planned to resign.

“I think he’s taking it one step at a time,” Lawler said.

Ney draws a $165,200 salary as a lawmaker. He apparently will still be able to draw his congressional pension although there have been recent attempts to change the law for members convicted of crimes.

Federal law does not require Ney to leave Congress after a conviction. But congressional rules bar him from voting if he is convicted of a crime that carries a prison sentence of at least two years, which Ney’s plea does.

The House also has the authority to expel a member with a two-thirds vote or impose lesser sanctions such as censure and reprimand.

The last member expelled by the House was former Rep. James Traficant, D-Youngstown, in July 2002 following his conviction on bribery, racketeering and tax evasion charges.

Top House Republican leaders, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Majority Leader John Boehner, R-West Chester, did not return calls Friday seeking comment on whether they thought Ney should step down or face discipline by the House.

Congress is almost finished this year, with just two more weeks to go before adjourning for the fall campaign. Lawmakers also expect to return after the election for a lame duck session to finish up several pieces of legislation.

The state just spent $500,000 for a special Republican primary on Thursday to find a replacement for Ney on the November ballot after he dropped his re-election bid last month.

State Sen. Joy Padgett, R-Coshocton, won that race and faces Dover Law Director Zack Space, a Democrat.

Taft spokesman Mark L. Rickel wouldn’t speculate whether Taft would order another special election or leave the seat open for the rest of the year if Ney does not finish the term.

“We haven’t heard anything,” he said. “It all depends on when and if. We’ll address it when it comes.”

The state last held a special election in August 2005 to fill the unexpired term of former U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, who became President Bush’s top trade representative before moving over to White House budget chief.