Panel Denies McCarthy Request to Pay Consultant Out of MRA

Posted September 5, 2003 at 3:51pm

The House Administration Committee has formally rejected a request by Rep. Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.) to charge her personal office $12,500 she owes a political consultant hired to overhaul her Washington operation.

The decision by House Administration, outlined in a Sept. 4 letter to the Kansas City Democrat from Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), means McCarthy may have to personally pay Fenn & King Communication the $25,000 it was promised by her in February.

McCarthy originally attempted to split the $25,000 bill between her re-election committee and the Members’ Representational Allowance allocated to her Congressional office, but a payment from the campaign would have been a violation of House ethics rules. A portion of that money has since been returned to McCarthy’s campaign, according to Matt Nerzig, McCarthy’s outgoing chief of staff and communications director.

A McCarthy aide confirmed the committee’s decision and said his boss was considering her next move. “She’s consulting with her Democratic colleagues on that committee and reviewing her options,” Nerzig said. Democratic staffers caution that this decision may not be the final word on the issue.

Ney’s staff grew concerned when McCarthy was unable to provide a written contract with Fenn, and descriptions of what exactly the consultant did for her were difficult to pin down, said GOP insiders.

The five-term Democratic lawmaker, with seats on both the Energy and Commerce and Homeland Security committees, has attracted intense scrutiny since a late-night incident on March 20.

McCarthy, after a long bout of wine drinking in an office near the House floor, fell down an escalator in the Rayburn House Office Building. Because she had to be taken to George Washington University Hospital in order to treat injuries suffered during the fall, McCarthy missed a key vote on the budget resolution, which Republican leaders passed by only three votes.

McCarthy subsequently took leave from the House in order to attend a month-long alcohol rehabilitation program in Arizona, but has been dogged by controversy ever since, including heavy staff turnover. Nerzig’s last day as McCarthy’s chief of staff was Friday, the second time she has lost her top aide since her return.

McCarthy’s personal problems may have emboldened a number of challengers for next year. At least one Democrat, public policy consultant Damian Thorman, will run against her in next year’s primary, and more are considering jumping into the race.