Rep. Steven Palazzo has spent about $230,000 from his campaign fund since 2010 on car expenses, purchases associated with home upkeep, reimbursements to himself, payments to his brother and other questionable costs, a CQ Roll Call review of Federal Election Commission reports found.
The Mississippi Republican acknowledged in November that he is the subject of an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics into alleged improper use of campaign funds from his Palazzo for Congress campaign committee.
Federal law prohibits members of Congress from using campaign funds for personal use and if that public trust is proven to be violated, it can result in sanctions from the House Ethics Committee and, in more severe instances, prosecution by the Department of Justice. Former California Rep. Duncan Hunter is headed to prison in 2021 for converting campaign funds to personal use.
In March, the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics requesting an inquiry into Palazzo’s spending. The complaint focused on $60,000 in campaign expenditures to rent a farm, Greene Acres LLC, and $127,000 to pay an accounting firm Palazzo founded that is now run by his former wife.
Palazzo’s 2019 financial disclosure shows he sold the Greene Acres farm in rural Perkinston, Miss., on Aug. 30 of that year. Just days later — on Sept. 4 — he sold another investment property of his in the Mississippi city of D’Iberville.
In the two-year-period leading up to and just after the sale of both investment properties, Palazzo’s campaign spent more than $13,000 on cleaning services, repairs and other maintenance.
Over $5,100 was used on repairs and maintenance expenditures with Lowe’s, Home Depot and Sherwin Williams. The campaign enlisted 3-D Glass Co., a Gulfport glass contractor that services residential and commercial clients. Its website says the company specializes “in residential glass shower enclosures and commercial glass services.” North Bay Heating & Air Inc., Ball Heating & Air Conditioning and Pounds Plumbing Inc. all completed work as well.
Palazzo’s campaign spent over $4,700 on cleaning services from vendors such as Miss Bree’s Cleaning Services and Cleanology Pro Cleaning Services, LLC.
The campaign also spent $2,000 on landscaping from H & H Lawncare, $960 on security from Roberson Security and $214 on pest control from Stark Exterminators.
Since 2016, Palazzo’s campaign has spent nealry $69,000 on expenses associated with his vehicles. Of that total, $52,700 went to GM (General Motors) Financial Leasing for regular car lease payments.
In addition to the GM expenditures, Palazzo spent almost $15,000 for lease payments, a down payment, car maintenance and a 2017 Tahoe purchase. These purchases were made at two Chevrolet dealerships: Pine Belt Chevrolet and Ray Brandt Chevrolet. Palazzo also used $975 for car maintenance services at Popp’s Express Car Wash and Magic Touch Auto Detailing in his home state.
In addition to the car bills, Palazzo spent more than $15,000 over a 10-year span at a variety of gas stations, including Exxon, Chevron and Shell.
Candidates are allowed to use funds from contributors for travel expenses related to campaigning, but they cannot be used for personal use of a vehicle, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Representatives for Palazzo's campaign and official offices did not respond to a request for comment.
"It certainly gives the appearance that he is using his campaign account to spruce up a property he owns and to drive a nice car using his campaign money," said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a group that advocates for tighter ethics rules.
Since 2011, Palazzo has spent over $22,100 on storage and moving expenses. The campaign has also expended almost $40,000 on phone costs since 2010, and $3,300 at the popular Capitol Hill bars Bullfeathers and the Tune Inn dating back to 2012.
Campaign money has also flowed to the lawmaker and his family. Palazzo has reimbursed himself over $48,700 from his campaign over the past 10 years. Kyle Palazzo, the congressman’s brother, was paid more than $27,300 in salary and expense reimbursements since 2014.
Other spending has been reported by Mississippi Today, including a $5,086 murphy bed purchase from Wilding Wallbeds for Palazzo’s congressional office in Washington, a violation of House rules. Such expenses must be paid out of the Members' Representational Allowance and not from the campaign, according to the House Ethics Manual.
Matt Lloyd, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, had no comment about whether the agency is investigating Palazzo for his campaign spending.
Tom Rust, a spokesperson for the House Ethics Committee, had no comment.
William Beaman, a spokesperson for the OCE, did not comment.