The House Ethics Committee unveiled reports of alleged wrongdoing and corruption by four congressmen on Friday, and said it will review all allegations.
The reports conducted and referred to the committee by Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), investigated GOP Reps. Alex Mooney, W.Va.,Jim Hagedorn, Minn., and Mike Kelly, Pa., and Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, N.J.
The ethics office investigates complaints, but only the House Ethics Committee has the power to punish a lawmaker for wrongdoing.
The report on Mooney found that he had repeatedly expensed his campaign for meals at fast food restaurants like Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A. The OCE recommended the committee review Mooney’s transactions as ‘there is substantial reason to believe’ he failed to disclose information to the FEC that might have shown he used campaign funds for personal purchases.
The review found Mooney’s ‘potentially problematic spending’ focused on ‘small-dollar meal expenses, in-district travel, and several large expenditures for auto repairs, a storage shed, and travel for staff retreats.
The report on Mooney found that he had repeatedly expensed his campaign for meals at fast food restaurants like Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A
Only meals purchased during travel for campaign business or meals for meetings with a clear campaign purpose are allowed to be charged to a campaign account. Mooney’s purchases were mostly within his district and the amounts charged signaled the meals were for one person.
Mooney tried to explain away the expenses. For example, he justified charging $12.84 at Wingstop to his campaign because he said he was coming back from retrieving campaign mail at a post office and there were constituents there at the chicken wing restaurant.
Mooney told the OCE he charges his campaign for meals when he is visiting with constituents. Most of his meal expenditures came at places like places like Chick-fil-A, Panera, Taco Bell and local pizza joints.
‘When you say visiting with constituents, what do you mean? Do you mean a planned meeting?’ the OCE asked Mooney. ‘Not necessarily, no, as I described earlier a lot of site visits I do, I just walk in and say ‘hi,” he replied.
‘Let’s say you go to Chick-Fil-A and you charge that to the campaign, the justification for that, being that there are constituents at the Chick-Fil-A that you spoke to?’ the OCE replied. ‘Yes. Yeah, I was meeting with constituents,’ said the West Virginia Republican.
The OCE said that Mooney had cooperated with the investigation and taken remedial steps to correct past mistakes.
Mooney also made suspicious charges for ‘site visits,’ including a three-day stay with his wife and three children at Canaan Valley Resort, 2.5 hours away from his home and outside his district.
Rep. Kelly, meanwhile, was under investigation for a stock purchase made by his wife into Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. on April 29, 2020, one day before the Commerce Department announced it would step in to help the ailing Butler, Pa. plant.
The OCE found ‘substantial reason to believe’ that Kelly’s wife Victoria bought stock in the steel company based on confidential information the lawmaker had received.
Kelly, his wife, his chief of staff and former Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross all refused to cooperate with the investigation.
In early 2020, the Ohio-based Cleveland Cliffs, part of which is in Kelly’s district, had threatened to shut its doors, prompting Kelly and other Ohio lawmakers to lobby the Trump administration to grant the company with additional protections.
One day before Victoria Kelly’s stock purchase, April 28, 2020, Ross called Cleveland-Cliff’s CEO to inform him that his department would take action that could help the plant. According to the report, Kelly’s office was told about the development that same day.
The next day, Victoria Kelly purchased between $15,001 and $50,000 in Cleveland-Cliffs stock, described as an ‘anomalous’ purchase because one year prior she had liquidated all her individual stock.
She bought the stock at $4.70 a share but sold it in January at $18.11 a share.
The lawmaker’s spokesperson said in 2020 his wife had made the purchase ‘to show her support for the workers and management of this 100-year old bedrock of their hometown.’ The OCE noted, though, that the couple did not publicly announce the purchase at the time.
Rep. Kelly, meanwhile, was under investigation for a stock purchase made by his wife into Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. on April 29, 2020
Victoria Kelly, left, purchased between $15,001 and $50,000 in Cleveland-Cliffs stock, described as an ‘anomalous’ purchase because one year prior she had liquidated all her individual stock
In Hagedorn’s case, the lawmaker ‘may’ have used official funds to award contracts to companies owned and controlled by his staff members
For Malinowski, the OCE found that the New Jersey Democrat did not report stock trades he made in 2019 and 2020
In Hagedorn’s case, the lawmaker ‘may’ have used official funds to award contracts to companies owned and controlled by his staff members.
Hagedorn may have directed nearly half a million dollars to firms connected to two of his employees for mailing services. The campaign was charged ‘unusually high prices,’ and House rules forbid members from contracting with staff members for goods or services.
The OCE also found that Hagedorn’s campaign used office space of a donor either free of charge or well below market rate and failed to report use of the space.
For Malinowski, the OCE found that the New Jersey Democrat did not report stock trades he made in 2019 and 2020. Malinowski has admitted the misstep, which he said was one of ‘carelessness’ that he regretted.
A spokesperson for Malinowski told the Washington Post the stock trades were ‘made solely by his broker, based on publicly available information.’
‘Congressman Malinowski has since gone far beyond what the law requires by placing his holdings in an Ethics Committee approved qualified blind trust,’ the spokesperson said.