Congress

House Ethics needs more time on Rep. Lori Trahan case

Office of Congressional Ethics referred Massachusetts freshman's case in September

The Office of Congressional Ethics referred the case involving Rep. Lori Trahan to the House Ethics Committee, which is extending its evaluation of the issue. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House Ethics Committee is extending its inquiry into Rep. Lori Trahan, the panel said Monday. The committee first received the referral of the Massachusetts freshman's case, which is focused on campaign finance issues, from the Office of Congressional Ethics on Sept. 18.

The ethics panel, lead by Democratic Chairman Ted Deutch of California and ranking member Kenny Marchant, a Texas Republican, has to publicly acknowledge the receipt of an OCE referral to further review a case after 45 days. The OCE can recommend dismissal of a case instead of further review.

Watchdog groups filed complaints to the Office of Congressional Ethics about last-minute infusions of cash to Trahan's campaign and raised questions about where the funds originated. Trahan ran in a contentious 10-way Democratic primary and loaned her campaign $371,000 in the last two weeks before the primary. She moved from fourth place in pre-primary polling to narrowly win the primary by 145 votes.

In a post on Medium in late October, Trahan defended her campaign financing in detail, with explanations of her business and how she and her husband split and shared their income. But she also acknowledged that the way she moved her family's money to support her campaign isn't clear cut. 

“I now know that the way I contributed those funds constitute a gray area in campaign finance law,” Trahan wrote. 

She cited Federal Election Commission precedents that she said supports her funding actions as not in violation of campaign finance law, including cases involving Jane Fonda in the 1970s and Bob Dole in the 1980s. 

Trahan laid out an argument that she and her husband shared finances completely. She did not disclose a joint bank account with her husband, which was a key source of the money, until after the election.

There are questions about transparency and other sources of the influx of money because Federal Election Commission filings and House Financial Disclosure reports include many amendments, including after the election concluded. 

“Last year, I discovered that my campaign made several errors in our personal financial disclosure statements and federal election reports. For many first time candidates like myself, this is common,” Trahan wrote. “I regret that there were inadvertent omissions and errors in my initial filings.”

She went on to say that she hired a campaign finance law firm to handle all reporting issues and that her disclosure statements and financial filings were amended to be made accurate following the 2018 election.

The statement from Deutch and Marchant said 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 itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”

The committee will announce further action on the case on or before Dec. 17.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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