The House ethics committee announced Monday that it will continue investigating whether Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., improperly used congressional office money to pay a former employee for consulting work.
The House ethics Republican chair and ranking Democrat, Reps. Michael Conaway of Texas and Linda Sanchez of California, announced they would extend the panel's probe, “in order to gather additional information necessary to complete its review” of Gutierrez.
The investigation was triggered by the House's external and independent ethics panel, the Office of Congressional Ethics, which submitted a report Dec. 4, 2013, that suggested Gutierrez may have violated the rules of the House.
According to the OCE, Gutierrez’s congressional office paid his former chief of staff, Doug Scofield, a lobbyist, $590,000 from 2003 until 2013 to provide “training” and “non-legislative assistance” to Gutierrez’s congressional staff.
The OCE said the money was paid from the Members Representative Allowance, a move that could be in violation of House rules and federal law, which prohibits use of MRA funds for services, “that more closely resemble those provided by an employee or a consultant.”
Gutierrez spokesman Douglas Rivlin noted that the House Ethics panel statement does not accuse Gutierrez of violating any rules.
In addition, Rivlin said, the House ethics panel did not vote to create a special subcommittee to investigate the matter, as it often does when it finds greater probability of wrongdoing.
“After its exhaustive review, the OCE made a single recommendation that the House Committee on Ethics assess whether the approved contract was permissible under ambiguous House rules,” Rivlin said. “As part of its review, the OCE examined questions relating to lobbying, campaign activities and the Congressman's memoir. The OCE ultimately found no conduct on those issues that necessitated additional review by the House Committee on Ethics.”
But Gutierrez is still under investigation because the House ethics panel did not decide to close the case.
Rivlin said Gutierrez has fully cooperated with the ethics panel and has submitted ten years worth of records and emails to facilitate the probe. Gutierrez and ten current and former employees also talked to investigators.
The House ethics statement notes that “the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”
Members found in violation of the House rules could face written admonishment, censure or in very rare cases, expulsion.