Misuse of taxpayer funds leads Ethics Committee to reprimand and fine Rep. Schweikert

Arizona Republican designated others to sign off on official disbursements

The Ethics Committee released a report on Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz. Thursday.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The Ethics Committee released a report on Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz. Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 30, 2020 at 1:53pm

The House Ethics Committee ordered Thursday that Rep. David Schweikert be fined $50,000 and reprimanded on the House floor for violating federal law and House rules by allowing his office to misuse taxpayer money, skirting Federal Election Commission reporting requirements, using campaign money for personal use and pressuring his staff to engage in campaign work.

The Ethics Committee plans to bring a privileged resolution to reprimand the Arizona Republican for a full House vote. Schweikert must repay the Treasury by Oct. 30.

The Arizona Republican’s Members’ Representational Allowance was misused for non-official purposes from January 2011 to November 2017, the Ethics Committee found. The report comes after the panel received a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent investigative entity in the House that found there was a “substantial reason” to believe Schweikert violated federal and House rules.

“We are pleased the Committee has issued their report and we can move forward from this chapter,” Grace White, a spokesperson for Schweikert, said in an email to CQ Roll Call. “As noted in the review, all issues have been resolved and Congressman Schweikert will continue working hard for Arizona’s 6th District.”

A privileged resolution reprimanding Schweikert will likely, based on past precedent, be voted on Friday morning.

Spending on Super Bowl, golf tournament

Between January 2011 and July 2018, Schweikert’s former chief of staff, Oliver Schwab, spent more than $270,000 in impermissible expenditures for Schweikert’s campaign and at least three other staffers made similar expenditures totaling less than $500, the Ethics Committee found.

Schwab, who resigned in July 2018, used over $6,000 of official funds from the MRA — an account that is explicitly for expenses that support the congressional office, such as staff salaries or computer purchases — on a six-day trip to Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona, the OCE found. Schwab spent the MRA money, which comes from the U.S. Treasury Department, on airfare, accommodations, a rental car, gas, parking and food. During the 2015 trip, Schwab also attended the Phoenix Open, a PGA golf tournament.

Schwab’s wife, mother and brother — none of whom live in Arizona — were also in the state for the trip and attended the Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks.

The Ethics Committee found Schweikert “failed to take reasonable steps to ensure his campaign committees operated in compliance with applicable laws and standards of conduct, including Federal Election Commission Act (FECA) reporting requirements.”

Staff used for campaign

The House Administration Committee requires members to sign off on MRA disbursements to certify they were incurred to support members’ official duties. The OCE report found Schweikert “had little or no involvement in approving MRA disbursement requests” and designated people to sign off on the disbursement documents on his behalf.

It is against federal law and House rules for a member to accept a campaign contribution from a staffer. In 2012, Schwab made a $1,000 contribution to Schweikert’s campaign. From 2011 to 2016, Schwab also spent money on behalf of Schweikert’s campaign committees that he was reimbursed for. Schwab was reimbursed for at least $16,000 in personal outlays made on behalf of Schweikert’s campaign committees, the OCE found.

The Ethics Committee ruled that Schweikert misused campaign money for personal use. He accepted personal items from his staff that were reimbursed with campaign funds from 2011 to 2018, including food and babysitting services.

Members of Schweikert’s congressional staff were also pressured to work on the campaign, the committee found.

The ethics investigative subcommittee, which looked into Schweikert, ultimately decided to recommend a lesser sanction than censure, largely because he accepted responsibility and agreed to pay the fine.

It is rare for the House Ethics Committee to recommend that the full House formally reprimand a member on the floor. The last time this happened was in 2012, when Laura Richardson, a California Democrat, was formally sanctioned on the House floor. However, several members have resigned or lost reelection amid investigation.

Rep. Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat, worked as the chairman of the investigative subcommittee and Rep. Bill Flores, a Texas Republican, served as the ranking member.