House Ethics Questions Proposed Donation to Missouri Rep.

A campaign consultant offered to forgive his $12,500 bill to a Missouri congresswoman after a committee ruled she cannot charge the work to taxpayers.

It was unclear whether Rep. Karen McCarthy (search), a five-term Democrat, would be allowed to accept such a gift or whether she would have to pay the bill herself.

House ethics rules (search) generally bar free services worth that much money. Waivers sometimes are granted for such gifts, but the consultant would not discuss whether McCarthy would seek one.

"I will agree to forgo my fee and provide the over 100 ro bono," said the adviser, Peter Fenn, a media consultant who advised Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.

Fenn advised McCarthy, 56, before and after she disclosed in March she would seek treatment for alcoholism.

McCarthy had asked the House to pay Fenn's bill for improving her official Web site and staff performance, but the House Administration Committee (search) denied the request because lawmakers are not allowed under House rules to pay consultants with taxpayer's money.

McCarthy wanted Fenn treated as a vendor, whom lawmakers are allowed to hire for cleaning, data entry, staff training and other nonlegislative jobs.

McCarthy refused to answer questions herself. She told reporters to talk to a Democratic colleague who appealed to the Administration Committee chairman on her behalf.

Connecticut Rep. John Larson, the panel's senior Democrat, met Wednesday evening with the chairman, Rep. Bob Ney (search), R-Ohio. Larson was concerned that Democrats were kept out of the loop, but Ney said Democrats were consulted and the decision would stand.

"We issued a ruling. They need to do what's legally correct," Ney said.

Larson respects the chairman's decision, his spokeswoman Beth Belizzi said, "but by the same token, Mr. Larson does continue to believe Rep. McCarthy's case has merit."