Updated 5:10 p.m. | The House Ethics Committee is reviewing alleged violations by Illinois Democrat and leading immigration overhaul advocate Luis V. Gutiérrez, the bipartisan panel announced in a statement Thursday.
The case centers on Doug Scofield, a former Gutierrez chief of staff and Illinois lobbyist that USA Today reported had a long-standing contract with Gutierrez's office until Gutierrez cancelled the contract last year, according to a source familiar with the case.
The source said Scofield does not lobby on federal issues. The question for the Ethics Committee appears to be whether Gutierrez violated restrictions on consultant contracts under the rules.
USA Today reported that Scofield's contract was to "train staff, review and draft press releases, and help publicize [his] activities among other things."
Under House Ethics rules, it would be kosher for Scofield to be a "contractor" rather than a "consultant," whom only committees can employ. Gutierrez's office insists that Scofield was a contractor, the source told CQ Roll Call.
From the House Ethics Manual:
Members may contract with firms or individuals only for general, non-legislative and non-financial, office services (e.g., equipment maintenance, systems integration, data entry, staff training, photography, custodial services, web services) for a specified time period not to exceed the Member's current term. Such contracts are reimbursable. Such contractors are not employees of the House and are ineligible for government-provided personnel benefits.Gutierrez spokesman Douglas G. Rivlin emphasized that the contract had been reviewed and approved every year.
"The (Office of Congressional Ethics) referral to the House Committee on Ethics relates to whether a long-standing contract was allowable under House rules. The contract for services was reviewed and approved by the House of Representatives and submitted for renewal each Congress for 10 years. It was consistently and properly reported. Rep. Gutiérrez cancelled the contract last year.
"Rep. Gutiérrez cooperated fully with the OCE during its review and will continue to do so with the Committee. As the Committee has noted, an OCE referral does not indicate that any violation has occurred or reflect a judgment on behalf of the Committee."
As is customary, the committee did not divulge its line of inquiry into Gutiérrez, other than to say that it was continuing to review the matter and would announce its next steps on or before May 5.
"The Committee notes that the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension and the name of the subject of the matter, does not indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee," Ethics Chairman K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., said in their joint statement, employing the boilerplate rhetoric of the panel.
Gutierrez was initially the subject of an investigation by the quasi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which probes members' alleged misconduct first and then refers cases to the standing committee of Republicans and Democrats for its review and last word.
USA Today reported earlier this week that the lawmaker has racked up significant legal fees in preparation to defend himself.