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The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday released a report prepared by an outside ethics office that concluded there was “substantial reason to believe” that departing Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, violated congressional rules or laws by hosting campaign events on House property and using campaign funds to pay for his daughter’s personal expenses.
The release of the report, referred to the committee in August by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, was triggered by a public disclosure mechanism in the ethics process that requires the committee to publish the OCE’s findings within 90 days of receipt in most cases, unless it decides to empanel an investigative subcommittee.
“The Committee notes that the mere fact of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such a referral, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee,” said the joint statement released by Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif.
The committee did not indicate in its statement that it planned to consider the matter further, nor did it close the matter outright.
Reyes’ attorney, Karl Sandstrom of Perkins Coie, said the committee has probably been occupied with other matters that have taken up a substantial amount of time. “This may be the end of the matter. The committee may be satisfied that the OCE referral and the response are on the record,” he said.
A Reyes spokesman maintained the allegations were “unsupported” and that the congressman had represented his El Paso district with the “highest level of integrity.”
“We are pleased that the Ethics Committee took no further action on this matter, while making clear that the fact of OCE’s referral did not indicate that any violation occurred,” spokesman Jose Borjon said.
The OCE report alleged that Reyes, on multiple occasions, billed his re-election account for meals in the Member Dining Room that were described as campaign meetings. Additional line items on periodic reports filed with the Federal Election Commission showed that the Reyes campaign paid about $13,000 for extermination services, utilities and items for his daughter’s home in Washington, which he used as a campaign office. Since Reyes did not cooperate during the OCE review, the report said, the board “draws a negative inference from that refusal to cooperate.”
The committee, along with the report, published a response from Reyes and his legal team at Perkins Coie that criticized the OCE’s review process, arguing that the eight-term congressman had not been given sufficient opportunity to explain the campaign-finance filings.
“The OCE repeatedly erred in its dealings with Mr. Reyes. He sought to explain to OCE why the article’s claims were not supported, but to no avail. He repeatedly asked for evidence against him that would support the matter’s continued pursuit, so that he could respond, but OCE refused to provide it,” the letter from Sandstrom and his colleague read.
Sandstrom told CQ Roll Call that the evidence against Reyes amounted to “five meals that were miscoded” in the House dining room that have subsequently been explained.
“On the very eve of Mr. Reyes’s departure from the Congress, the committee should take care not to release a flawed report and findings that would otherwise be the last word on almost forty-six years of public service,” the response said.
Reyes lost his primary in a redrawn district to former El Paso City Councilman Beto O’Rourke. Unrelated ethics charges made by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington were emphasized during the campaign.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted a portion of the OCE report. The report said that the board "draws a negative inference from that refusal to cooperate."