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Why the newest ethics controversies on Capitol Hill matter

Illinois' Marie Newman and Colorado's Doug Lamborn are facing ethics investigations, though one seems more serious than the other.

Rep. Marie Newman is facing a tough re-election fight in Illinois, where redistricting has left her facing a fellow incumbent member of Congress in a Democratic primary. Similarly, Rep. Doug Lamborn has reason to worry about his prospects, thanks to a Republican primary in his Colorado district.

Yesterday, as Roll Call reported, both incumbents received some unwelcome news at an inopportune time.

The House Ethics Committee on Monday released details of Office of Congressional Ethics reports on two members, Reps. Marie Newman, D-Ill., and Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., and said that the committee would continue to review the referrals.

Let's take these one at a time, because there are qualitative differences between the two controversies.

Newman stands accused of making a behind-the-scenes deal during her 2020 campaign: The Illinois Democrat was aware that one of her former advisers was eyeing the same race, according to the complaint, and Newman allegedly reached an agreement that said if Iymen Chehade didn't run, she'd give him a job after her victory. (The congresswoman prevailed, but she did not give Chehade a job. He later sued and they settled out of court.)

As ethics controversies go, this one seems relatively straightforward. By the standards of Chicago-area politics, it also seems relatively tame, and Newman's office has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

Lamborn, on the other hand, seems to have a far bigger mess on his hands.

The Colorado Republican's troubles began last spring, when a Marine veteran who worked in Lamborn's office sued the congressman. According to Brandon Pope's lawsuit, when the aide complained about Lamborn's "reckless and dangerous approach to Covid-19" in his congressional offices, the GOP lawmaker fired him.

But that's not all Pope alleged. NBC News reported last year:

The suit says Lamborn "consistently disregarded ethical rules and norms that apply to Members of Congress," including using staffers to do tasks for his wife and son, including moving furniture. The suit also says at one point, Lamborn "gave his son the necessary access to live in a storage area in the basement of the U.S. Capitol for a period of weeks" when the son was moving to Washington for work.

Soon after, The Denver Post obtained emails that appeared to show the congressman's aides being asked to run errands for Lamborn's wife.

Over the summer, a different Lamborn staffer — Joshua Hosler, former chair of the El Paso County Republican Party and former district director for the congressman — made matters slightly worse. As the Denver Post reported, Hosler "said the allegations that Lamborn fired a staffer in retaliation after the staffer sought to protect himself and others during the pandemic are true."

Not surprisingly, an ethics investigation soon followed, and while the GOP lawmaker's office insists he did nothing wrong, investigators spoke to several staffers who said they did favors for members of Lamborn's family.

So what happens now? To briefly review how the process works, the Newman and Lamborn controversies were examined by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is responsible for reviewing allegations and making recommendations to the House Ethics Committee, which has the authority to sanction members for wrongdoing.

Yesterday, the Office of Congressional Ethics told the House Ethics Committee that both the investigations into the Illinois Democrat and the Colorado Republican should move forward.

Politico noted this morning that the ethics panel tend to pause their probes "if federal law enforcement or prosecutors get involved," though there's no reason to believe that's happening here. The political fallout, however, may very well matter as primary voters decide Newman's and Lamborn's fate as the ethics investigations unfold.