Rep. Emerson Resigns

Billy House and Elahe Izadi

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., will be stepping down from her seat in Congress to head up the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

NRECA spokesman Patrick Lavigne confirms that Emerson will be starting as the group’s newest CEO in March 2013.

Emerson, 62, has served ten terms in Congress. She will retire in Feburary, according to a news release circulating K Street.

She was first elected to Congress in 1996 to replace her husband, Rep. Bill Emerson, who died while in office. Before serving in Congress, Emerson worked for the American Insurance Association and the National Restaurant Association.

When the GOP tried to get Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., to drop out of the Missouri senate race in August, Emerson was considered a top contender to put on Senate ballot.

Emerson has been serving on the House Appropriations Committee and is the Chairwoman of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee. She also sits on the Agriculture Subcommittee and Legislative Branch Subcommittee.

Despite the news that she has accepted the position, there is no public disclosure on file with the House Clerk’s office that Emerson has been negotiating for an outside job. In fact, records show no House members have filed such a public notice with the House clerk in more than three years.

Lawmakers are required to step aside from votes or other official actions where conflicts might arise with any outside job they are negotiating over--and House rules hold they must file a “recusal” notice with the Ethics Committee when they do. Then, the decision to file a recusal notice is supposed to trigger the public filing of a notice that the member has been negotiating for an outside job.

An Ethics Committee spokesmen declined to comment on whether Emerson has ever filed with the committee a required notice of job negotiations.

Congress enacted the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act in the wake of the controversy over then-Rep. Billy Tauzin’s departure from the House in 2003. The Louisiana Republican accepted a $2 million-a-year salary as the head of the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying organization just a couple of months after playing a lead role in drafting legislation introducing a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare.

Government-reform groups like the Campaign Legal Center and Public Citizen say the 2007 law, which also applies to the Senate, is being interpreted too narrowly by the Ethics Committee itself, allowing members the freedom to only file recusals when they, themselves, determine it is necessary. And by not doing so, they have avoided having to make public the fact they are negotiating for outside jobs while still serving in Congress.

Campaign Legal Center, Public Citizen, and other groups have been urging Congress to strengthen the rules.