March 21, 2012 in Idaho

Idaho Senate panel dismisses ethics complaint

By The Spokesman-Review
AP/Idaho Statesman photo

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, listens to questions asked by the Senate Ethics Committee during a hearing Tuesday, March 20, 2012. On Wednesday the panel voted unanimously to dismiss an ethics complaint against Pearce. At right is Pearce’s lawyer, Charles Peterson.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - A bipartisan Idaho Senate Ethics Committee has voted unanimously to dismiss an ethics complaint against Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth.

Pearce was accused of violating conflict of interest rules for not revealing, through multiple votes in committee and in the full Senate on oil and gas legislation, that he has oil and gas leases on his Payette County property. But ethics panel members said after three days of hearings, they couldn’t find evidence the rule was violated.

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, moved to dismiss the ethics charges. “In terms of public perception, he would’ve been well-served to disclose in committee,” Hammond said. “That would have helped the situation.” But, he said, ” I have found nothing here relative to our rules that leads me to do anything but move that we dismiss the charges.”

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, seconded the motion. “With our investigation, I do not believe we can demonstrate direct pecuniary benefit to Sen. Pearce for his actions supporting the bill, HB 464,” Schmidt said. However, he said, “His actions placed Sen. Pearce’s conduct in doubt and necessitated these painful deliberations we conclude today.”

Pearce disclosed his conflict of interest shortly before the final vote in the Senate on the most controversial of this year’s oil and gas drilling bills, HB 464, which pre-empts local authority over well siting and puts the state in charge. He didn’t disclose his lease with Snake River Oil & Gas, one of the major proponents of the bill, through hearings in his committee, at which the company testified in favor of the bill, or procedural votes in the full Senate.

Criminal defense attorney Chuck Peterson, representing Pearce, told the panel, “I don’t think he has a conflict of interest as Idaho law defines conflict of interest.”

Pearce said in a statement, “I welcome the committee’s unanimous decision to clear me of the charges leveled last week. I did nothing wrong and have a clear conscience.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, met with Pearce in his Senate office shortly after the vote to congratulate him. “In my mind, his good name has been restored, by both the minority and the majority, as far as this issue is concerned,” Hill said.

Hammond and Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, said they support a more specific Senate disclosure rule to tell senators when they have to disclose conflicts; the ethics panel may take that up when it meets again on Friday morning.

In recent days, there’s been a rash of disclosures by lawmakers, some clearly unnecessary and at least one specifically designed as a protest of the ethics investigation of Pearce; Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said that was his motivation for declaring a conflict of interest in a pre-abortion ultrasound bill because he has two unmarried daughters and asking to be excused from voting.

After huddling with Senate leaders behind closed doors, Siddoway withdrew his request and voted in favor of the bill.

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