House Ethics Panel Rebukes Rep. Hilliard

From Associated Press

The House ethics committee unanimously rebuked Rep. Earl F. Hilliard (D-Ala.) for campaign finance violations but gave him the mildest punishment available because he admitted wrongdoing.

Hilliard was given a letter Thursday condemning his conduct, signed by the Republican chairman and the ranking Democrat on the 10-member Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

The letter cited the lawmaker for using campaign funds to pay for personal loans, salaries of people working for companies run by Hilliard and his family, and rent and utilities for those companies.

"You engaged in serious official misconduct that brought discredit to the House of Representatives, committee Chairman Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) and the ranking Democrat, Rep. Howard L. Berman of Mission Hills, wrote Hilliard.

"Your willingness, ultimately, to admit to the misconduct . . . and to enter into a settlement of this matter was significant in the committee's determination to . . . sanction you through a letter of reproval."

The investigation has been underway since December 1997.

"I'm very happy it's over," Hilliard said. "I shouldn't have made those loans. I know that. But there's nothing illegal about what I did."

The committee found three separate violations, all involving expenditures that were not for legitimate campaign purposes.

Marty Connors, Alabama Republican chairman, said: "I do think ethics in general will be one of the driving issues [against Hilliard] in the next campaign."

Hilliard was first elected in 1992. He represents parts of Birmingham and Montgomery.

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