Get to bottom of ethics probe on Rep. Marie Newman before June election

At issue is whether Newman offered a federal job to a potential 2020 primary challenger in exchange for him agreeing not to run against her.

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U.S. Rep. Marie Newman

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

With the Illinois primary election fast approaching, the U.S. House Committee on Ethics should quickly let voters know whether U.S. Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., essentially paid an alleged political bribe.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, which is separate from the House Committee on Ethics, has already unanimously concluded there is “substantial reason” to believe Newman offered a federal job to Iymen Chehade — now a foreign policy adviser to her 2022 congressional campaign — in exchange for him agreeing not to run against her in the 2020 Democratic primary.

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Newman, a first-term member of Congress from La Grange, is challenging fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove in the west and southwest suburban 6th Congressional District, rather than run in the 4th Congressional District, into which she was re-mapped, though candidates do not have to live in the district where they run. Chehade, a Palestinian American adjunct professor, is running for a seat in the 3rd District — where he does not live — which is currently represented by Newman.

Voters making a choice between Newman and Casten in the June 28 primary deserve to know what light the Ethics Committee can shed on the allegation against Newman. They ought to know at least before expanded early voting starts on June 13, and preferably sooner since people can start requesting mail-in ballots on March 30. The committee doesn’t like to announce any findings less than 60 days before an election, which would be April 29. That’s a short turnaround for the usually lumbering committee, but in a potentially hotly contested race, it’s important for the committee to provide some answers.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, which only makes recommendations, said Chehade sued Newman to enforce a contract he signed promising him a job on her congressional staff. Chehade said his decision not to run in 2020 was based on the promise of a job. In a draft contract, Chehade said he would not “announce or submit his candidacy” in exchange for a job as Newman’s chief foreign policy adviser during the 2020 campaign and then asa district or legislative director once she took office. Newman unseated former U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski in the 2020 primary.

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Candidates dropping out of the running for elected seats to clear the way for someone else and then turning up with political or government jobs is a longtime, if unsavory, Illinois tradition. But it is not ethical to give away a government job as part of a specific quid pro quo for political advantage.

Newman has denied any wrongdoing. Her lawyer admitted the contract, in theory, violated House employment and federal contracting rules, but argued those rules did not apply to Newman because she was not a federal employee before her election. The lawsuit Chehade filed after he did not get the job has been settled, with undisclosed terms.

The Ethics Committee, which has the power to punish a lawmaker for wrongdoing, has said it will investigate. It should finish that investigation in time to help voters make an informed decision.

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