The requests are focusing on a series of fund-raisers last December, in the days immediately before the House’s initial adoption of the sweeping overhaul, which could win final approval this week. Some of the fund-raising events took place the same days as crucial votes.
For example, on Dec. 10, one of the lawmakers under investigation, Representative Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, left the Capitol during the House debate to attend a fund-raising event for him hosted by a lobbyist at her nearby Capitol Hill town house that featured financial firms, along with other donors. After collecting thousands of dollars in checks, Mr. Crowley returned to the floor of the House just in time to vote against a series of amendments that would have imposed tougher restrictions on Wall Street.
That same day, Representative Tom Price, a Georgia Republican on the Financial Services Committee, scheduled what he called a “Financial Services Luncheon” at the Capitol Hill Club, as part of a fund-raising push that netted him nearly $23,000 in contributions from the industry in a two-month period around the vote.
In an area where the rules are murky, the investigators are taking an aggressive stance on what constitutes unethical conduct. The independent ethics office, led by a former federal prosecutor, has clashed repeatedly with lawmakers on the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, who have accused it of over-reaching. Given this history, observers believe it is unlikely that the committee will admonish any members, even if the investigators recommend action.
Some lawyers advise politicians to forgo fund-raising events in the midst of debates to avoid an appearance problem.
In 2004, the House ethics committee admonished the majority leader, Tom DeLay, for attending an energy industry fund-raiser just before an important decision on an energy bill. “A member should not participate in a fund-raising event that gives even an appearance that donors will receive or are entitled to either special treatment or special access,” a letter sent to Mr. DeLay said.
But the practice of soliciting donations in the midst of legislative debates remains common. In fact, dozens of members not included in the current inquiry scheduled fund-raising events in the weeks before the House vote, many of them taking donations from financial services companies. This year, as members of Congress furiously debated a regulatory bill and frantically raised money for critical midterm elections, fund-raising and lawmaking constantly intersected.
Given the pace of both, some in Washington said it would be impossible to swear off raising money while legislating.
“There are things going to the floor every day,” said Representative Melvin Watt, the North Carolina Democrat who is also a subject of the inquiry. “If this is going to be the rule, you can never do fund-raising.”
The exact focus of the investigation has been something of a mystery since word leaked in June that it was under way, perplexing lobbyists, lawyers and even the lawmakers being singled out.
But lawyers knowledgeable about the investigation said those eight were picked in large part because in the 10 days immediately before the initial full House vote on the bill — which took place Dec. 10 — they solicited and received an unusually high proportion of campaign dollars from the financial sector. They received $140,000 in all, and at least seven of the eight, like Mr. Crowley, had fund-raisers during this period.