Januar 23. 2024

US Congressional Investigations Continue to Pick Up Steam as 2024 Begins


As the 2024 legislative session commences, Congress is poised to focus on conducting investigations of not only the Biden administration but also the private sector. With most legislative activity largely stalled until after the election in November, Congress’ attention will naturally gravitate to investigations. Already this year, congressional committees have ramped up several ongoing investigations and signaled new investigations of several industries.

This Legal Update summarizes key developments this month in congressional investigations impacting the private and nonprofit sectors.

House investigators ramped up their investigations of universities following last year’s well-publicized hearing into antisemitism on college campuses.

  • The House Education & Workforce Committee sent a sprawling demand to Harvard University seeking records relating to not only antisemitism but also disciplinary proceedings more generally, DEI initiatives, legal settlements, foreign donations, enrollment data, and meeting minutes of the governing boards.
  • The House Ways & Means Committee furthered its investigation into the tax-exempt status of universities by demanding information from several universities about their endowments, DEI policies, and free speech policies.

China remains an active area of congressional oversight and investigations.

  • Also in the university space, the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (“House Select CCP Committee”) announced a joint investigation with the House Energy & Commerce Committee into federal grants made to a Chinese artificial intelligence researcher affiliated with a US university.
  • The House Select CCP Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee moved forward with their joint investigation into security risks in the maritime sector, by demanding additional information from a Swiss company about its commercial relationship with a Chinese manufacturer.
  • The chairmen of the House Agriculture and House Oversight & Accountability committees issued a joint statement promising “robust oversight” of Chinese ownership of US farmland.
  • Notably, the House Select CCP Committee (first established at the start of this Congress) has demonstrated that it will work closely with the permanent standing committees of the House, meaning such investigations have (i) additional staff and other resources, (ii) interest—in many cases, bipartisan—from a larger number of House members, (iii) a potentially broader focus given the different jurisdictions of various House committees, and (iv) often a higher profile than other committee investigations.

Investigations of technology and social media companies continue to be active.

  • Last year, the House Judiciary Committee opened investigations into concerns about censorship by technology and social media companies, including these companies’ coordination with the federal government to censor speech, as well as federal funding of “disinformation” research by universities and nonprofits. This month, the Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for documents to the Director of National Intelligence seeking communications with private companies and non-profits relating to the committee’s pending investigations.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee has been examining legislation aimed at removing harmful online content, and later this month the CEOs of several online platforms will testify before the committee on the issue.

Investigations of financial institutions and pharmaceutical companies continue apace.

  • Several House committees—including the House Judiciary Committee, the House Financial Services Committee, the House Ways & Means Committee, and the House Select CCP Committee—have launched investigations of financial companies relating to ESG investing, retirement security, index funds’ exposure to China, and coordination with federal law enforcement. We expect this focus on financial institutions to continue in 2024. For example, this month, the House Judiciary Committee expanded its investigations involving financial institutions’ identification of customer transactions to assist law enforcement.
  • In addition, the Senate Budget Committee is actively investigating private equity ownership of hospitals and the insurance industry’s response to climate risks and underwriting of fossil fuel projects. This month, the Senate Budget Committee held its 13th climate-related hearing since the start of this Congress in 2023, focused on municipal bonds. Climate change will remain a focus of the Budget Committee, with another climate hearing already scheduled this month.
  • The Senate Finance Committee has launched an inquiry into Medicare Advantage marketing practices and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden and House Energy & Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone are also probing Medicaid Managed Care Organizations. The Senate Finance Committee is also investigating prescription drug shortages.
  • The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (“HELP”) is focused on prescription drug costs. This month, the committee broadened its pending investigation to include the price of asthma inhalers. The HELP Committee also announced it would consider subpoenas to compel testimony from CEOs of two major pharmaceutical companies on the topic of prescription drug costs. If the subpoenas are issued, it would be the committee’s first use of its subpoena authority in over 40 years.

Mayer Brown’s bipartisan Congressional Investigations practice has extensive experience helping clients manage the legal and reputational risks inherent in congressional investigations. Our team includes former senior congressional staffers, including a former General Counsel to the Speaker of the House and senior counsel in the House General Counsel’s Office, and former senior committee staff from the US Senate Banking, Finance and Commerce committees and the US House Ways & Means and Energy & Commerce committees. For more information about the topics raised in this Legal Update, please contact any of the authors.

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