House Ethics office finds ‘substantial reason’ to suspect four lawmakers of violating ethics laws

The House Office of Congressional Ethics on Thursday released documents that said there is “substantial reason to believe” that four lawmakers — three Republicans and one Democrat — have violated ethics laws.

Reps. Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn., Mike Kelly, R-Pa., Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., and Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., were all named in the ethics office documents, Fox News reported Thursday evening.

Regarding Hagedorn, the House Ethics Committee said that he may have misappropriated funds after hiring a pair of firms tied to two of his staffers in which he paid those companies unusual sums of money, as first noted by LegiStorm in June. In addition, Politico added, Hagedorn may have also violated campaign finance statutes after providing free office space to a donor.

“It sounds like something that could potentially be a fairly serious violation of campaign finance law and the ethics rules,” Bryson Morgan, a former investigative counsel at the Office of Congressional Ethics now in private practice, told Politico. “They need to pay fair-market value for any space that the campaign uses.”

“If [the donor] gets that basement space as part of the rent he’s paying for his congressional office, then that is arguably illegally using congressional funds to pay for the campaign office,” Larry Noble, a former top Federal Election Commission attorney who now teaches at American University in Washington, D.C., told the outlet.

As for Kelly, the committee says that he may have misused confidential information for personal enrichment. Forbes reported that his wife, Virginia, “bought at least $15,000 of shares in Cleveland Cliffs, a steel producer…five days before the Department of Commerce announced an investigation into steel imports that stood to benefit the company.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, meanwhile, noted that Kelly pushed for the department to launch its investigation.

“Details published in news reports regarding those disclosures were found because the congressman publicly reported his financial records,” Kelly’s press secretary, Matt Knoedler, told Forbes in a statement. “Both the congressman and Mrs. Kelly have been, and will continue to be, advocates and supporters of the Butler Works/Cleveland Cliffs plant in Butler, where they are lifelong residents.”

Meanwhile, the committee found that Malinowski failed to reveal stock trades he made within the required 45 days under federal law. Business Insider noted that data released by the lawmaker’s office earlier this year showed that the trades occurred between January 2019 and January 2021 involving more than $670,000. Forbes reported further that the New Jersey Democrat “moved at least $1.56 million worth of his holdings into a blind trust” in August.

“Contrary to the partisan attacks, there is no allegation before the committee of any abuse of office,” a spokesperson for Malinowski told Forbes. “The only matter that has been recommended for review is a failure to properly file some of his disclosures, an oversight which he has always acknowledged, and fully corrected.”

The committee also alleged that Mooney used campaign funds to pay for personal expenses amounting to more than $40,000 and then failed to report them. Forbes added that Mooney spent “$3,400 at West Virginia restaurants” while using campaign funds to pay for “expenses for two visits to resorts with family members.” The outlet also said Mooney “repaid his campaign $12,000.” His alleged violations were first noted by CQ Roll Call in August.

“Congressman Mooney is cooperating fully with the inquiry into this matter,” Mark Harris, a Mooney campaign spokesperson, told the outlet in a statement.

“The remaining allegations either involve legitimate officially related or campaign expenses at West Virginia businesses or involve campaign expense reporting that is largely technical in nature,” Mooney added.

“Personal use means any use of funds … to fulfill a commitment, obligation or expense of any person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or duties as a Federal officeholder,” say FEC regulations. House rules, meanwhile, “require that Members be able to verify that campaign funds have not been used for personal purposes.”

Following the release of findings by the ethics office, the matters will now go to the House Ethics Committee, a panel of 10 members who have the authority to issue subpoenas and compel testimony.

Jon Dougherty


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