Palazzo subject of House Ethics Committee inquiry

Report transmitted from Office of Congressional Ethics

Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee for campaign spending. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee for campaign spending. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted December 17, 2020 at 3:03pm, Updated at 5:52pm

The House Ethics Committee is investigating Rep. Steven Palazzo’s campaign spending.

The panel announced on Thursday it needs more time to complete its inquiry of the Mississippi Republican. Public disclosure of Palazzo’s alleged misconduct was prompted by an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into the lawmaker that recommended there was a substantial reason to believe there was a violation of federal law or House rules.

“Congressman Palazzo looks forward to fully cooperating with the Ethics Committee during its review and plans to show he has followed the Ethics Rules of the House of Representatives and that this matter should be dismissed,” Colleen Kennedy, a spokesperson for Palazzo, said in a statement.

Kennedy added that Palazzo had hired his former colleague in the Mississippi delegation, Republican Gregg Harper, to represent him before the Ethics panel. Harper, who served five terms and retired after the 2018 election, previously served on the Ethics Committee is a former chairman of the House Administration Committee.

“I believe we have already addressed many of the issues and will continue to fully cooperate with the Committee. We are optimistic that this review of the OCE allegations will show that Congressman Palazzo has followed the Rules,” Harper said in an email to CQ Roll Call.

Palazzo acknowledged in November to the Biloxi Sun Herald that he was 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.

That investigation was spurred by a Campaign Legal Center complaint that the nonpartisan watchdog group filed in March with the Office of Congressional Ethics. The complaint centered on $60,000 the campaign spent 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.

CQ Roll Call reported last week that Palazzo has also 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.

Lawmakers are prohibited under federal law and House rules from using campaign funds for personal use.

Palazzo’s campaign has spent campaign money on other items that are ripe for review. Mississippi Today reported about a $5,086 murphy bed purchase from Wilding Wallbeds for Palazzo’s congressional office in Washington, a House rule violation.

Former Rep. Duncan Hunter is scheduled to go to federal prison in January for misusing over $150,000 in campaign funds. That inquiry began with the Office of Congressional Ethics and was transmitted to the House Ethics Committee. Because of Hunter’s transgressions, the Department of Justice had asked the Ethics panel to defer its investigation into the California Republican, a common practice.

The Office of Congressional Ethics is not authorized to serve subpoenas or enforce disciplinary punishment for violations. As a result, the Office of Congressional Ethics report is sent to the House Ethics Committee to make a determination on those fronts. Investigations can stall in the House Ethics Committee for myriad reasons, including that members are sometimes hesitant to bring sanctions against their colleagues.

Further action by the House Ethics Committee will not happen on this matter until after the next 117th Congress takes office in January.