The most quotable member of Congress may have violated House ethics rules by using campaign cash to cover travel expenses for speaking engagements in England, a liberal watchdog group alleged Thursday.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics against Rep. Louie Gohmert, asking for an investigation into the Texas Republican's use of more than $6,000 in campaign funds to for a late November trip CREW believes was not for campaign or political purposes. In its most recent report to the Federal Election Commission, Gohmert’s campaign committee listed expenses related to a trip the congressman took to England in November and December of 2014, including $5,451.39 to the five-star Andaz Liverpool Street hotel in London, $396.12 to the Old Bank Hotel in Oxford, and $234.54 for a taxi ride in Cambridgeshire, CREW states.
Speaking engagements included trips to the Cambridge Union Society, the Rothermere American Institute, and an address to a joint group from the U.K. House of Lords and House of Commons.
“Rep. Gohmert’s legendary tirades may put him in high demand for public speaking engagements, but that doesn’t give him license to bill a luxury London vacation to his campaign,” said Anne Weismann, CREW’s interim Executive Director. “The congressman can’t credibly claim that speeches made to those who can’t vote for him served the purpose of getting him re-elected.”
But Gohmert said the trip was political.
"You know, a lot of senators and representatives do that, and of course the president when he was running, he liked to go over there," he said in an interview, steps from the House floor, where he had just delivered a 60-minute "Gohmert hour" speech.
"I think it was a great thing," he continued. "I think we did some good and — there were people there that said they wanted to do fundraisers when I come back. Anyway, I'm surprised; I didn't use any government funds."
House rules state that campaign funds may not be used for official purposes. With respect to travel rules, campaign funds may only be used to pay travel expenses when the primary purpose of the trip is an activity that serves a bona fide campaign or political purpose.
Gohmert's communications director said that though most of the congressman's talks were political, some might have been arguably official, "but he chose the safer route of making it a political trip and so official funds were not used," stated Kimberly Willingham. She added, "I am not entirely sure what the fuss is about."
CREW also filed a complaint against Gohmert in 2013, asking OCE to investigate him for allegedly abusing his position as a congressman to try to get out of a parking ticket.
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