Ethics panel reproves two Illinois Democrats for House rules violations

- Maret 22, 2018

The House Ethics Committee found that two Illinois Democrats violated chamber rules and must personally repay thousands of dollars for their actions.

Yet in the case of Rep. Bobby Rush, the Ethics Committee will allow him to be repaid by his campaign committee for any personal cost, so the end result is that Rush won't be out of pocket at all.

Rush and Rep. Luis Gutierrez were formally reproved by the Ethics panel for the violations, findings that were announced on Thursday by Reps. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), the chairwoman and ranking member of the committee.

Both cases were initially investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics, the independent ethics watchdog, which found "substantial reason to believe" that Rush and Gutierrez had violated House rules.


Rush's violation was tied to Chicago office space he has occupied for more than two decades without paying rent. Rush started renting the space when he was a Chicago alderman, but he failed to pay rent on it for more than 24 years, according to the Ethics Committee.

The panel ruled that Rush's action — accepting the use of free office space — was a violation of House gift rules. The Ethics Committee ruled that Rush must repay the rental company more than $14,600 out of his own pocket.

"In this case, Representative Rush should have known that he could not accept the use of office space, over a 24 year period, without making any effort to determine whether the Gift Rule allowed it," the Ethics Committee declared in its report on the case. "The resulting violations were both foreseeable and entirely avoidable. Thus, consistent with its precedent, the Committee has decided to publicly reprove Representative Rush."

Yet because the space was only used for political purposes, Rush's campaign can repay him for the cost off the rent and the Illinois Democrat won't suffer a financial hit.

The Ethics Committee also found no violation by Rush tied to two donations by his campaign committee made to a church that employed Rush's son.

Rush — who cooperated with the Ethics Committee's probe — said he was satisfied with the panel's findings.

“I agree with the central analysis of the House Ethics Committee in that, when all is said and done, this was a relatively minor matter," Rush said in a statement. "The rare use of the essentially abandoned office space was related to my role as a party official, but I accept the Ethics Committee’s recommendation that I take personal responsibility for paying the U.S. Treasury."

In the Gutierrez matter, the Illinois Democrat paid a former staffer-turned-consultant, Doug Scofield, for a decade out of his official congressional account. Gutierrez will now have to personally repay the Treasury Dept. for $9,700 in improper payments to the ex-aide.

After questions about the issue were raised in an article by USA Today, an OCE probe found "substantial reason to believe" that Scofield was providing "services to [Gutierrez's] congressional office that more closely resembled those provided by an employee or consultant, rather than a contractor — in violation of federal law and House rules."

Gutierrez apparently sought guidance from the Committee on House Administration for the Scofield contract before it was signed in 2003, according to the Ethics Committee's report, although there is no record on what, if any, instructions the Illinois Democrat received from that panel.

According to Thursday's report, "the [Ethics] Committee found that although an overwhelming majority of the work Mr. Scofield performed from 2003 to 2013 clearly accorded with the contract’s terms, Mr. Scofield occasionally performed work for Representative GutiĆ©rrez’s office that was either 'legislative' in nature or otherwise exceeded the scope of work outlined in the contract. Representative GutiĆ©rrez thus impermissibly used MRA funds to pay Mr. Scofield for some work that exceeded the scope of the Scofield Communications contract, and the limits of what a contractor retained to provide services to a Member’s congressional office may do, as defined by the Committee on House Administration (CHA). The Committee also concluded that the resulting violations, though unintentional, were significant enough to warrant a reproval by the Committee."


The member representational allowance, or MRA, is the official money the House provides to lawmakers to run their congressional offices. There are extensive rules on how these funds can be used.

Gutierrez noted that he had sought guidance from the House Administration Committee before initiating the contract with Scofield.

"The Ethics Committee concluded, as I did, that any misuse of funds was 'inadvertent' and done with the approval of Committee on House Administration and the Office of House Finance," Gutierrez added. "I am glad this review is resolved and that the Ethics Committee exonerated me of any willful or intentional wrongdoing. After five years the Ethics Committee came to the same conclusion I reached in 2013 when this was first brought to my attention."


 

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