More than three years after the fact, House Ethics Committee punishes two Democrats who violated House rules

The House Ethics Committee this week publicly reproved two Illinois Democratic members of Congress—one for violating House rules and one for violating federal law. Each case was under review by the Ethics Committee for more than three years—longer than one full election cycle. Each case was referred by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which found reason to believe the members had committed offenses.

“Justice delayed can be justice denied,” said Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee. “The Ethics Committee showed no good reason for the delays in these two cases. That means the cloud of unethical behavior hovered over these two members for too long, and that the public was deprived of the expected enforcement of important ethical standards and norms for three years. In the case of Rep. Gutierrez, the delayed resolutions gives the appearance that the Ethics Committee was just waiting for him to leave Congress before acting. That is no way to ensure compliance with House rules.”

The Ethics Committee found that Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), “received a gift, which exceeded the strict limits under the House Gift rule” following confusion, and failed to pay rent for more than two decades for office space, dating back to the congressman’s days as an alderman in the 1980s. Rush must now repay the $14,600 that exceeded the House gift limit out of personal funds, though he may use his state and federal campaign committee funds to pay the amount owed, as the office space was used for campaign purposes. The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) referred this matter to the Ethics Committee nearly four years ago in June 2014.  

Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s (D-IL) case revolved around his retaining of Doug Scofield, Gutierrez’s former chief of staff, for services for Gutierrez’ congressional office. According to the newly released Ethics Committee report, “the [Ethics] Committee found that although an overwhelming majority of the work Mr. Scofield performed from 2003 to 2013 clearly accorded with the contract’s terms, Mr. Scofield occasionally performed work for Representative Gutiérrez’s office that was either ‘legislative’ in nature or otherwise exceeded the scope of work outlined in the contract. Representative Gutiérrez thus impermissibly used MRA funds to pay Mr. Scofield for some work that exceeded the scope of the Scofield Communications contract, and the limits of what a contractor retained to provide services to a Member’s congressional office may do, as defined by the Committee on House Administration (CHA). The Committee also concluded that the resulting violations, though unintentional, were significant enough to warrant a reproval by the Committee.”

The Ethics Committee also determined that Rep. Gutierrez will have to repay the Treasury Department $9,700 for improper payments made to Scofield and Scofield’s firm. OCE referred this matter to the Ethics Committee more than four years ago, or two full election cycles ago.

Both of these cases were featured in Issue One’s recent “Ethics Blind Spot” report on the failing of the House Ethics Committee to foster a culture of high moral and ethical standards in the U.S. House of Representatives, in part because their investigations are politicized and delayed for years.