Rep. Jean Schmidt has to repay $500,000 for accepting legal services in violation of House ethics rules, a Congressional panel announced Friday, even as it ruled she is not at fault in the incident.
The House Ethics Committee decided not to further sanction the Ohio Republican despite its conclusion that legal services she received from a Turkish-American interest group constituted an improper gift. The committee found that the Congresswoman was unaware of a compensation arrangement between the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund, which supplied her lawyers, and the Turkish Coalition of America, a lobbying group that was paying the lawyers.
“The Committee has found that Representative Schmidt’s lawyers failed to inform her of their payment arrangement with TCA, and made false and misleading statements to her about their relationship with TCA and TALDF,” read a statement released by Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.). “Because Representative Schmidt did not know she was receiving a gift from TCA, the Committee has determined that no sanction is appropriate in this case.”
Lawyers who claimed to be acting on behalf of the TALDF represented Schmidt in a series of cases in Ohio from 2008 to 2010. She did not pay those lawyers nor did she report their service as a gift on her annual financial disclosure reports.
The committee concluded that she was unaware — and therefore not responsible for reporting that her lawyers were being compensated for the work by the TCA, relieving her of the bills, which she said she intended to pay later.
“I welcome the news,” Schmidt said in a statement Friday. “The report vindicates what I have been saying all along: I have worked cooperatively with the Committee to ensure that I pay these bills in an ethical way. I hope this will be the end of a sideshow created by my political opponents.”
According to a report released Friday and written by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which refers cases to the Ethics Committee, Schmidt started receiving the services in 2008 in connection with disputes with Democrat David Krikorian, who has run twice unsuccessfully in Schmidt’s 2nd district. But she did not seek the guidance of the Ethics Committee on how to pay for the related legal services until September 2009.
The Ethics Committee ultimately recommended that Schmidt pay for services with a legal expense fund or campaign funds in February 2010, but the OCE’s investigators found that the Ethics Committee was unaware that Schmidt’s lawyers had already worked 500 hours on her cases and had been paid about $293,000 by the TCA at that point.
In interviews with the OCE, her attorneys said that they were under the impression they were doing the work at no charge to Schmidt, and one lawyer said he told her campaign that “we would not charge them legal fees,” according to the report. Schmidt, however, denied that the work was intended to be pro bono, telling OCE that she would pay for the legal services retroactively.
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