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Ethics clouds shadow 4 Democrat House members, including Senate hopefuls, 'Squad' icons

Potential violations of House rules and federal law range from acceptance of impermissible gifts and improper solicitation of campaign contributions to use of taxpayer funds for political purposes and campaign donations for personal use.

Published: March 27, 2023 11:23pm

Four House Democrats — including two icons of ultraprogressive microfaction "The Squad" and two 2024 Senate hopefuls — are facing ethics questions for potential violations ranging from acceptance of impermissible gifts and improper solicitation of campaign contributions to use of taxpayer funds for political purposes and campaign donations for personal use.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is under investigation for the extravagant "Tax the Rich" dress she wore to the 2021 Met gala. The House Ethics Committee revealed earlier this month that it had expanded the probe after receiving an 18-page report unanimously approved by the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics alleging there was "substantial reason to believe" Ocasio-Cortez accepted impermissible gifts in violation of House rules, standards of conduct and federal law. 

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) is reportedly facing a second campaign finance complaint following an earlier one by watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT). The group filed a complaint March 1 with the Federal Election Commission requesting that it investigate whether Bush converted campaign funds to personal use in violation of federal law by paying her now-husband, Cortney Merritts over $60,000 in campaign funds last year for personal security services.

Conservative super PAC the Committee to Defeat the President followed suit with an FEC complaint over the same alleged offense. Bush "attempted to conceal the conversion of campaign funds by falsely reporting the purpose of the disbursements was to compensate [Merrits] for security service," the group charged in its complaint. "Merritts, however, is not a licensed security guard; it is illegal for him to provide security-related services anywhere in Bush's congressional district. Indeed, far from being a security guard, it appears during the relevant timeframe he was a mover."

Alluding to the former Black Lives Matter activist's support for the defund the police movement, the group wrote, "It is time for the FEC to Defund Cori Bush by stopping her from using her campaign as a personal piggy bank and lying to the American people about it on fraudulent FEC reports."

FACT has also accused Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), now running for retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat, of violating federal law and congressional ethics rules by running political ads using taxpayer funding during her reelection campaign last year. 

"The facts of this case demonstrate Rep. Porter used taxpayer funds to pay for political ads," FACT wrote in a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics urging it to investigate. "The laws at issue in this case are extremely important because not only do they protect taxpayer funds from abuse, but they address the public perception that incumbents are simply using their office to run for reelection."

Finally, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), an announced 2024 Senate candidate, was hit with an ethics complaint by FACT last year for allegedly soliciting "impermissible campaign contributions" in her bid for reelection to the House. 

According to the complaint, Slotkin "attended a virtual meeting of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA)" in May, appearing to have attended remotely from her House office just across the street from the Capitol building, Fox News reported

"Both federal law and House ethics rules prohibit official funds and resources from being used for campaign or political purposes," according to the complaint submitted by FACT Executive Director Kendra Arnold. "31 U.S. Code section 1301 provides that official funds are to be used only for the purposes for which appropriated — and not any campaign or political purpose. The House ethics rules also require strict separation between campaign and official acts: A Member is clearly prohibited from using official resources for campaign or political purposes."

Just The News reached out to all four congressional offices seeking comment. None of them replied. 

Beyond the ethics clouds shadowing the four U.S. lawmakers, ex-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was indicted in 2022 on federal racketeering charges for allegedly profiting from his political office. Madigan left office in January 2021 while the investigation was underway. He had served in the state House since 1971 and as speaker for all but two years until 2020. 

Madigan had been under investigation since 2014, when he was recorded at his law firm talking about a potential hotel business project, along with the "private benefits" that came with his public office, The Chicago Sun-Times reported in 2019.

Madigan denies the charges. "I was never involved in any criminal activity," he said in a statement last year, CNN reported. "The government is attempting to criminalize a routine constituent service: job recommendations. That is not illegal, and these other charges are equally unfounded.

"Throughout my 50 years as a public servant, I worked to address the needs of my constituents, always keeping in mind the high standards required and the trust the public placed in me. I adamantly deny these accusations and look back proudly on my time as an elected official, serving the people of Illinois."


You can follow Nick on Twitter @NGivasDC

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