McCarthy Lawyer Rebuts Grammy Trip Allegations

Posted November 21, 2003 at 5:34pm

An attorney representing embattled Rep. Karen McCarthy dismissed new allegations that the Missouri Democrat improperly used campaign funds and her Congressional staff for personal benefit.

“It’s absurd,” said Stan Brand, who was recently hired by McCarthy to handle questions about the Democrat’s use of a management consultant. “They’re picking on her,” he said, responding to allegations made by a number of former McCarthy staff members charging that she improperly used campaign funds to pay for a four-day trip to attend this year’s Grammy Awards in New York.

The Kansas City Star reported Friday that a former scheduler in McCarthy’s office, Cindy Vansickle, provided the paper with travel and credit card records showing a $2,916 bill for a four-day stay at the Waldorf Astoria and Towers Hotel that was paid for with campaign funds. The paper also said that other former staff members alleged McCarthy used them for personal tasks, such as chauffeuring her to and from her home and on personal shopping trips.

Brand said that McCarthy’s trip to attend the Grammy Awards was a legitimate use of campaign funds, noting that other Members of Congress attended the event and McCarthy has had a legislative interest in issues involving the music industry through her seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

He said that Federal Election Commission records for Members of Congress routinely show an array of expenditures “that Members legitimately justify under the rules as arising from their duties as an officeholder. They have discretion under the Ethics Manual and FEC rules to pay for them with campaign money as long as it is not purely personal.”

“She’s doing only what Members have traditionally done with those funds from time immemorial,” Brand said.

He also suggested that it was not uncommon for staff members to drive for lawmakers. “How many staff people drive their bosses to the airport? What are they supposed to do, jump out of the car, get in the campaign car, and bring the campaign car back? It’s absurd,” Brand said.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has not made any inquiries about the recent allegations, Brand said. The ethics committee has the authority to initiate an investigation on its own but the panel has not exercised this power since 1999, when it launched probes of two black lawmakers, Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and then-Rep. Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.).

An unofficial truce between Republicans and Democrats has also made the filing of complaints against fellow lawmakers a virtually nonexistent event in recent years.

Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project, said the allegations concerning McCarthy clearly warrant action by the ethics panel.

“If they wanted to put up a feeble excuse that they were actually doing something, McCarthy would be the case to do,” Ruskin said.

Brand said he would not expect a complaint against McCarthy on the allegations raised by her former staff because “this goes on fairly routinely, and is a recognized intersection between campaign-related rules and official rules. So I wouldn’t expect it unless 300 people want to line up for going to the ethics committee.”