House Ethics Panel Punishes Aide to Civil Rights Icon

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The House Ethics Committee on Friday formally admonished the top aide to Rep. John Lewis -- an icon in the civil rights movement -- for not disclosing and not paying federal taxes on $54,000 in outside income that he made while working on the Georgia Democrat's reelection campaigns between 2005 and 2010.

In a rare punishment for congressional staff, the committee sent a letter of "reproval" to Lewis' chief of staff, Michael Collins, who faces a $1,000 fine and has been asked to pay all income taxes, penalties and interest on the earnings.

Collins "violated House rules, laws, regulations or other standards of conduct and brought discredit upon the House of Representatives" for exceeding the outside earned income limit for senior staff, the committee said. In its report, the committee said Collins told investigators he never received the 1099 forms to file taxes on the income.

In a statement, Collins said he accepted the committee's report and comply with the recommendations.

"These mistakes were not intentional but were due to an inadvertent omission in disclosure," he said. "Regardless, I fully recognize that as a senior staff member in the U.S. House of Representatives and most importantly as a chief of staff, it is my responsibility to know and follow the rules of financial disclosure."

The punishment is a body blow to Lewis, who is well-respected on both sides of the aisle and is known for running a clean shop. He has earned a stellar reputation for his work in the civil rights movement.

Collins, 45, who has been Lewis' aide for more than a decade, was featured last week in The Hill newspaper's "50 Most Beautiful People on Capitol Hill." The title of Collins' profile is "Big Man on Campus."

In a similar case with a different outcome, the ethics committee cleared Greg Hill, chief of staff to Texas Rep. Michael McCaul of exceeding the limit on outside income while working on the Texas Republican's campaign. The difference here, the committee said, is that Hill took repeated steps to correct the problem and now has successfully "disgorged himself of the excess income."

Hill was referred to the committee after he received $32,000 from McCaul's campaign in 2009. At that point, senior House staff is only allowed to receive $26,550 for campaign employment, which is conducted while on leave from the congressional office.

McCaul, who serves on the ethics committee, recused himself from the case.

The committee indicated that it is still evaluating potential wrongdoing in the case of Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., who is accused of receiving an improper loan last year.

"Any mandatory disclosure of such further review does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee," the committee wrote.

The committee also cleared Rep. Jean Schimdt, R-Ohio, of receiving an "impermissible gift" from the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA) in the form of legal advice. The committee decided against sanctioning Schmidt because she was unaware of the gift. But the committee has asked Schmidt to take particular steps to ensure such a violation does not happen again and to repay the gift. The committee also praised Schmidt for working in "good faith" with the panel to clear it up.

"I welcome the news," Schmidt said in a statement. "The report vindicates what I have been saying all along: I have worked cooperatively with the committee to ensure that I pay these bills in an ethical way. I hope this will be the end of a sideshow created by my political opponents."

In the Friday document dump, the committee decided to take no action against Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who was arrested a few days ago outside the White House while protesting immigration policy. It was his second arrest related to immigration protests.

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.