Detroit News: Ethics panel extends probe; report says Tlaib likely misused campaign funds

By Craig Mauger

The House Ethics Committee said Thursday it’s extending an investigation into Rep. Rashida Tlaib and released a report that alleged there’s “substantial reason to believe” she misused campaign funds.

The report from the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics focused on payments Tlaib’s campaign made to the Detroit Democrat after the Nov. 6, 2018, election but before she took office. The report recommended the matter receive further review and even suggested the committee subpoena the freshman lawmaker and three campaign staffers.

Tlaib has denied wrongdoing.

Under federal regulations, candidates are generally allowed to receive salary payments from their own campaigns. However, one of the many conditions for those payments is they must be for work performed through the date of the general election.

“Rep. Tlaib, through her counsel, argues she complied with these conditions; however, several documents provided to the OCE by Rep. Tlaib suggest otherwise,” the report said. “Specifically, documents provided to the OCE indicate Rep. Tlaib was paid for work she performed after November 6, 2018 — the date of the general election.”

Tlaib received a $2,000 payment on Nov. 16 and a $15,500 payment on Dec. 1, according to the report. The other payments she received from her campaign — $28,000 total — occurred before the election.

The report included an email from Tlaib’s campaign treasurer to campaign staff. The email said “for most of us” the pay period for Dec. 1 checks was “Nov. 16, 2018 to December 31, 2018.”

The OCE board unanimously recommended further review of the allegation that Tlaib converted campaign funds to personal use. A press release from the House Ethics Committee said “in order to gather additional information” the committee will review the matter.

“… Out of fairness to all respondents, and to assure the integrity of its work, the committee will refrain from making further public statements on this matter pending completion of its initial review,” said a statement from top members of the House Ethics Committee.

The Ethics Committee is evenly divided among five Democrats and five Republicans, though it is chaired by Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida.

A formal response from lawyers for Tlaib called the report “unprecedented.” The response noted the House is looking into events that occurred before Tlaib took office and that are traditionally handled by the Federal Election Commission.

Tlaib’s lawyers said the payments that occurred after the election were “to catch up on the salary which she had accrued, but had theretofore been withheld.”

In a statement, Tlaib said she had to leave her job as a civil rights attorney to campaign for the U.S. House in 2018 while raising two sons as a single mother. Federal regulations allowed her to receive a salary, and she “received the minimum salary payments necessary for me to meet my personal financial obligations, while ensuring that the campaign reserved the resources needed to reach voters,” the freshman lawmaker said.

Tlaib’s statement added, “I look forward to the Ethics Committee’s prompt resolution of this matter in my favor, and I hope my experience will clear more room for people like me to run for office by availing themselves of FEC innovations that level the playing field, like paying a non-incumbent candidate salary or covering childcare expenses with campaign funds, so that financial privilege is not a prerequisite to participate in our democracy.”

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