Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s House Ethics Investigation Will Continue

The Illinois Democrat may have broken rules by continuing to pay a former staffer.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 08: U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) speaks during a news conference on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as DREAM Act, on Capitol Hill December 8, 2010 in Washington, DC. The Senate and the House will vote today on the DREAM Act, which would grant young illegal immigrants citizenship if they attend college or join the military. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)  
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
May 5, 2014, 10:40 a.m.

Rep. Lu­is Gu­ti­er­rez will con­tin­ue to be in­vest­ig­ated by the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee re­gard­ing wheth­er he broke House rules by keep­ing a staffer-turned-lob­by­ist work­ing and paid by his con­gres­sion­al of­fice — to the tune of more than $590,000 over 10 years, the pan­el’s top lead­ers said Monday.

The se­cret­ive com­mit­tee also re­leased a re­port from an­oth­er in­vest­ig­at­ive agency that — for the first time pub­licly — de­tails those ac­cus­a­tions against the Illinois Demo­crat, known as one of Con­gress’s most pas­sion­ate and vis­ible ad­voc­ates for im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

The com­mit­tee could have dropped the case out­right if it found no reas­on to con­tin­ue with its in­quiry. Even so, com­mit­tee Chair­man Mi­chael Con­away, R-Texas, and rank­ing mem­ber Linda Sanc­hez, D-Cal­if., stopped short of an­noun­cing in a joint state­ment that a spe­cial in­vest­ig­at­ive sub­com­mit­tee with sub­poena powers will be formed to ex­pand the in­quiry.

Any form­al re­com­mend­a­tion in­to wheth­er Gu­ti­er­rez broke House rules and, if so, should pos­sibly re­ceive pun­ish­ment, ul­ti­mately would have to go through such a pan­el.

“The com­mit­tee notes that the mere fact of con­duct­ing fur­ther re­view “¦ does not it­self in­dic­ate that any vi­ol­a­tion has oc­curred, or re­flect the judg­ment on be­half of the com­mit­tee,” Con­away and Sanc­hez, said provid­ing no time frame for when an up­date will oc­cur. Rather, the mat­ter has been des­ig­nated for fur­ther re­view un­der Com­mit­tee Rule 18(a), a des­ig­na­tion that has en­abled a num­ber of oth­er eth­ics cases against Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­an to lan­guish, some for years, without fur­ther com­ment.

In a state­ment, Gu­ti­er­rez spokes­man Douglas Rivlin sought to high­light that the com­mit­tee has not taken a step to con­vene a spe­cial eth­ics sub­com­mit­tee, and said the con­gress­man and his of­fice “will con­tin­ue to co­oper­ate fully.”

“As the com­mit­tee points out, its re­view does not in­dic­ate that any vi­ol­a­tion has oc­curred or re­flect any judg­ment on be­half of the com­mit­tee,” Rivlin said.

Still, the tim­ing of Monday’s an­nounce­ment rep­res­ents a speed bump to fel­low Demo­crats, who in re­cent days have launched a midterm-elec­tion of­fens­ive de­pict­ing the GOP-led House as a “Re­pub­lic­an House of Scan­dal.” They’ve poin­ted to Rep. Mi­chael Grimm’s in­dict­ment last week, and Rep. Vance Mc­Al­lister’s troubles after be­ing caught on video­tape kiss­ing an aide.

Even though the com­mit­tee didn’t an­nounce wheth­er there will even­tu­ally be a spe­cial in­vest­ig­at­ive pan­el, the news that it hasn’t de­cided to drop the case against Gu­ti­er­rez, an 11-term Illinois con­gress­man, serves as a re­mind­er that sev­er­al Demo­crats re­main un­der scru­tiny for al­leged mis­deeds.

The an­nounce­ment Monday came with the re­lease of a re­port from Of­fice of Con­gres­sion­al Eth­ics out­lining why ex­actly it sent the Gu­ti­er­rez mat­ter to the com­mit­tee on Dec. 4. The OCE is a sep­ar­ate, in­de­pend­ent watch­dog that es­sen­tially provides an early vet­ting of eth­ic­al ac­cus­a­tions made against law­makers.

The OCE’s re­port shows that agency’s board voted 6-0 to refer the mat­ter to the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee, find­ing that “there is sub­stan­tial reas­on to be­lieve that Gu­ti­er­rez used funds from his con­gres­sion­al of­fice ac­counts for “an im­per­miss­able pur­pose.”

That re­port goes on to de­tail much of what Gu­ti­er­rez’s of­fice had already ac­know­ledged pub­licly.

The in­vest­ig­a­tion was re­lated to a “long-stand­ing con­tract” in­volving pay­ments to a lob­by­ist, Doug Scofield — who stepped down as the con­gress­man’s chief of staff in 2002 — to con­tin­ue ad­vis­ory work with the law­maker’s staff. Gu­ti­er­rez’s of­fice says the con­tract for ser­vices was con­sist­ently and prop­erly re­por­ted and ap­proved for re­new­al each Con­gress for 10 years, though the OCE in­vest­ig­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, was un­able to con­firm that with the House Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee.

But Gu­ti­er­rez can­celled the con­tract last year after pub­lished ac­counts began rais­ing ques­tions about the pay­ments.

In all, the OCE re­port states Scofield’s firm was paid between 2003 and 2012 more than $590,000 for ser­vices de­scribed as “train­ing” or oth­er “non-le­gis­lat­ive” as­sist­ance to the con­gres­sion­al of­fice. The re­port con­cludes that the pay­ments “more closely re­sembled those provided by an em­ploy­ee or con­sult­ant rather than a con­tract­or — in vi­ol­a­tion of fed­er­al law and House rules.”

The OCE re­port also dis­closes that Scofield him­self de­clined to provide doc­u­ment­ary evid­ence or testi­mony to the OCE in­vest­ig­at­ors. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, that also goes for Jen­nice Fuentes, an­oth­er Gu­ti­er­rez former chief of staff, and En­rique Fernan­dez, a former deputy chief of staff. The re­port re­com­mends they be sub­poenaed by the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee.

In his re­sponse on be­half of the con­gress­man, Rivlin says that OCE re­ques­ted 10 years of re­cords, files, notes, and com­mu­nic­a­tions (in­clud­ing emails) between Scofield, Gu­ti­er­rez, and the con­gress­man’s staff, and that “the Con­gress­man and ten cur­rent or former staff mem­bers also vol­un­tar­ily spoke with the OCE.”

“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,” he ad­ded.

“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.

It re­mains un­cer­tain how much of an im­pact the con­tin­ued in­quiry will have on Gu­ti­er­rez’s in­flu­ence and ef­forts to cham­pi­on im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

Gu­ti­er­rez has been part of an in­form­al bi­par­tis­an group of House mem­bers try­ing to draft an im­mig­ra­tion bill that would in­crease bor­der se­cur­ity and al­low the na­tion’s 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants to ap­ply for U.S. cit­izen­ship.

He also is chair­man of the Con­gres­sion­al His­pan­ic Caucus Im­mig­ra­tion Task Force, and pre­vi­ously served as chair­man of the Demo­crat­ic Caucus Im­mig­ra­tion Task Force.

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