Georgia Rep. Paul Broun is being investigated for paying GOP communications consultant Brett O'Donnell more than $43,000 in taxpayer dollars, according to a report released about two months before the congressman leaves office. From February 2013, when the Republican launched his bid for retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat, to March 2014, Broun's office paid $2,500 per month to the man known in political circles as a tea party "whisperer." Emails obtained by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which referred the case to the House Ethics Committee on July 31, characterized the former debate coach for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney as part of the Broun campaign's "core team."
O'Donnell also appeared to be the lead negotiator in formatting campaign debates, and offered tips on driving winning points home. In one instance, O'Donnell requested a conference room at the National Republican Congressional Committee to help Broun prepare for a debate in his 2012 House campaign. Broun, his chief of staff and O'Donnell all told OCE investigators O'Donnell's services for their campaign were voluntary, but their explanations differ in how that status was established.
The House Ethics Committee announced Wednesday that it was continuing a review of Broun's actions, although it is doubtful further action will be taken before the three-term lawmaker exits Congress.
In a statement to CQ Roll Call, Broun said he is "fully cooperating" with the committee and would continue to do so throughout their review. "I am confident that I acted in compliance with all House rules, and I look forward to a favorable resolution of this matter," he stated.
Over the course of 22 months, O'Donnell collected a total of $43,750 in government funds for coaching Broun on media interviews, public speaking and other services. During that time, Broun's campaign committee reported only one payment to O'Donnell — a travel reimbursement of $838.75 made on April 12, 2013.
The congressional handbook flatly prohibits member offices from hiring "consultants," or contractors who do anything beyond general work, like maintenance, data entry and web services. Paying for campaign help with official funds is also prohibited. Broun may have violated both House rules and federal law, OCE stated in its 46-page report .
Broun told the OCE he considered all of O'Donnell's work for the congressional office as "training, 'cause that's what I hired him to do, help train me to be a better communicator," according to the report. However, his former communications director, press secretary, and director of operations told the OCE that they did not receive training from O'Donnell.
In compliance with confidentiality rules, the committee is making no further statements on its review of the referral. O'Donnell did not respond for comment.
In 2010, Broun introduced a resolution calling for mandatory ethics training for members of the House, saying they needed to learn the rules. “Ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse for accused criminals, and it cannot be an excuse for Members of Congress,” he stated at the time. The same rule change has been proposed for the 114th Congress.
Related: House Ethics Committee Probing Paul Broun Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.