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February 6, 2014 at 2:39 PM

Ethics panel weighing spending probe of Cathy McMorris Rodgers

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is facing possible ethics investigation over alleged violation of congressional rules in the run up to the  Spokane Republican’s 2012 election to the House GOP leadership’s No. 4 slot.

McMorris Rodgers’ office said Thursday the House Ethics Committee is weighing whether to pursue a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) in December that the fifth-term lawmaker improperly “commingled” her campaign funds and her official budget in her successful bid for chair of the House Republican Conference.

The confidential complaint was made by Todd Winer, McMorris Rodgers’ former spokesman, according to a person briefed on case. Winer was passed over for a job as communications director in McMorris Rodgers’ leadership post, was dismissed from her staff in January 2013.

House rules permit lawmakers running for party leadership positions to use either their campaign money — raised from political donors — or official funds — taxpayer money to perform their jobs . But they must use one or the other, and not mix the funds.

For instance, McMorris Rodgers is allowed to use her campaign donations to print and mail material for her leadership election. But she can’t use her office staff to handle that.

According to Roll Call, Winer’s complaint said McMorris Rodgers brought in campaign aides to work with her chief of staff in her congressional office during the work day. Under ethics rules, that is permitted only after office hours.

Nate Hodson, communications director for the House Republican Conference, said McMorris Rodgers is “confident that every activity was compliant with all federal laws, House rules, and standards of conduct.  We are fully cooperating and look forward to seeing this matter dismissed.”

Hodson and Elliot Berke, McMorris Rodgers’ outside legal counsel, would not say if Winer’s allegations go beyond commingling campaign and office resources.

Thursday was the end of a 45-day period for the Ethics Committee to decide whether to launch a probe. The committee was expected to delay that decision by another 45 days, as is typical.

The case was referred to the ethics committee by the OCE, an independent ethics watchdog that function as an internal affairs office for Congress. The OCE serves as a fact-finding body to determine whether an official investigation is warranted. Cases are referred to the ethics committee if the OCE finds “substantial” reason to believe violations occurred.

0 Comments | More in Congress | Topics: cathy mcmorris rodgers, House Ethics Committee

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