Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) likely violated federal law by paying herself with money from her campaign, a probe of the spending found.
Tlaib’s campaign reported campaign disbursements that might not be legitimate, the board Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics ruled earlier this year, prompting the launch of an investigation. The documents (pdf) were released on Nov. 14 by the House Ethics Committee.
“There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Tlaib converted campaign funds from Rashida Tlaib for Congress to personal use or Rep. Tlaib’s campaign committee expended funds that were not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes,” the board stated.
On April 4, 2018, Tlaib told her campaign manager and campaign consultant that she was “struggling financially.”
“I was thinking the campaign could loan me money, but [campaign staffer] Ryan [Lomonco] said the committee could actually pay me. I was thinking a one time payment of 5K,” she wrote.
Andy Goddeeris, the manager, replied that he wanted to consult with an attorney before adding, “If it’s legally permissible I want to do what’s necessary so that this campaign doesn’t dig you a hole you’re struggling to get out of.”
About three weeks later, Tlaib emailed a number of staffers on her campaign saying she was “not going to make it through the campaign without a stipend,” and requested “$2,000 per two weeks but not exceeding $12,000.”
After research, Tlaib’s staff concluded Tlaib could be legally paid for her service but the decision to pay Tlaib a salary from the campaign “remained a source of concern” for both Tlaib and her staff throughout the campaign, messages showed.
Tlaib was ultimately paid $45,500 from May 7, 2018, to Dec. 1, 2018. That included $17,500 for a period of time after the Nov. 6, 2018, general election, which the board found likely ran afoul of personal use prohibitions.
Tlaib and all of her staffers refused to submit to interviews with the board. The board recommended issuing subpoenas to Tlaib and three of her staffers.
According to federal law, a “contribution or donation [to a candidate or member of Congress] shall not be converted by any person to personal use.”
Personal use “means any use of funds in a campaign account of a present or former candidate to fulfill a commitment, obligation or expense of any person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or duties as a Federal officeholder.”
In a joint statement on Thursday, Chairman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Ranking Member Kenny Marchant (R-Texas) said that the committee would review the case.
Conducting further review of a referral “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee,” they wrote. “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.”
Tlaib said in a statement submitted through her legal counsel, Perkins Coie, that she did nothing wrong.
“In its findings OCE admits that the salary payments fell within the FEC limit, acknowledges that the timing of the final two payments did not in itself violate FEC rules, and disregards evidence of Representative Tlaib’s good faith compliance,” the statement (pdf) read. “If the OCE report and findings form an accepted basis to initiate an investigation, it would invite an unprecedented use of the ethics process to litigate the unnumerable routine FEC questions with which every campaign must deal.”