Four months after the House Ethics Committee told Rep. Jean Schmidt to disclose and repay about $500,000 in legal expenses she unknowingly accepted from a Turkish-American interest group, the Ohio Republican has yet to amend her financial disclosures or begin repaying the debt.
In August, the Ethics Committee concluded that because Schmidt was unaware of an agreement between her lawyers at the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund and the Turkish Coalition of America — which was reimbursing her attorneys for their work on several matters related to the Democratic challenger in her last re-election bid — it would not seek sanctions against her. However, the committee concluded that the receipt of legal fees was an impermissible gift that should be repaid.
“In sum, Representative Schmidt must: 1) ensure that TCA does not pay for any further legal services on her behalf; 2) pay from a permissible source the lawyers associated with TALDF for all legal services they performed to date; 3) amend her 2009 and 2010 Financial Disclosure Statements to disclose the gifts from TCA; and 4) disclose any unpaid legal fees from TCA as liabilities on her future Financial Disclosure Statements, until the lawyers associated with the TALDF have been repaid in full,” Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement.
The committee noted at the time of its announcement that Schmidt had been working with its members and staff since September 2009 to determine the appropriate way to repay her attorneys and that it believed the Congresswoman was acting in good faith. The committee’s report said it had given Schmidt guidance on how to pay the legal debt, namely that she could open a legal expense fund to pay the legal bills incurred for two matters, one before the Ohio Elections Commission and a defamation lawsuit, but could not use such an account to pay for a related but separate amicus brief submitted to the Ohio Elections Commission.
“The Committee recognizes that the lawyers associated with TALDF have been representing Representative Schmidt for more than two years, in at least three different legal proceedings, and the legal fees for this work are substantial,” the report on the Schmidt matter noted. “For this reason, the Committee does not expect Representative Schmidt to fully pay the lawyers associated with TALDF immediately. However ... Representative Schmidt must begin paying the lawyers associated with TALDF as soon as funds are available ... additionally, the Committee notes that it did not approve the use of [a legal expense fund] for fees related to the amicus brief. She must pay those fees immediately and provide the Committee with a cancelled check as proof of payment of the legal services related to the amicus brief.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.