Monday, June 15, 2020

NEW: Schweikert Ethics Investigation Enters THIRD YEAR Today; Bumps Into (Another) Election Campaign

The long-running House Ethics Committee investigation into Arizona Rep. David Schweikert entered its third year today. It is now impacting the second straight election cycle in the Northeast Valley Congressional District (CD6). 

The extended process has drained more than half  (55%) of all of the monies the Schweikert campaign has raised during that time, and the amount spent on legal fees is now at approximately $1,000,000.

With the primary election 50 days away and the general election looming in November, House Ethics Committee rules have certain rules that may or may not prevent them from making any announcements ending the probe. The Committee repeatedly have declined to tell Arizona's Politics how they would be interpreting those 60-day rules.

It was on June 14, 2018 that the bipartisan Committee voted unanimously to establish an investigative subcommittee ("ISC") to look into allegations that Schweikert and his then-Chief of Staff Oliver Schwab had misused the Congressional office budget, violated rules about staff members contributing to the political campaign and that Schwab had received excessive outside income.

That was enough to prompt the Schweikert campaign to begin paying legal fees to several different law firms for different groups of Congressional staff members. And, Schwab left Schweikert's office less than one month later. 

But, the probe expanded later that year after the independent Office of Congressional Ethics sent a second referral to the Committee. On December 20, 2018, the Ethics Committee expanded ISC to look into allegations 
"that (1) Representative Schweikert may have used official resources to benefit
his campaign or pressured congressional staff to perform political activity; (2) Representative Schweikert may have authorized compensation to an employee who did not perform duties commensurate with his House employment; (3) Representative Schweikert or his campaign committee may have received loans or gifts from a congressional employee; and (4) Representative Schweikert may have omitted required information from his annual House financial disclosure statements and Federal Election Commission candidate committee reports." 
The House Ethics Committee then carried the investigation into the current Congress, and that is the last it has been heard from, except for releasing the two page follow-up referral from the OCE (as required by rules).

However, the Committee also has rules about postponing reporting requirements within 60 days of an election. We asked whether this includes the primary election, or if it is only concerned with the general election? (Arizona's primary election for the seat will take place on August 4.) 

The 60-day rule does not require postponing reports, so we asked what factors the Committee uses to determine whether to make such a postponement. Again, crickets. Similarly, the Committee's rules sometimes require a public statement when an investigation is being extended, often at a yearly anniversary date. Such an extension would have called for such an announcement this past Friday, or today - within 60 days of the primary election. No response to our questions, and no announcement.

As we indicated in our most recent update on this long-running probe, while the legal fees reported each quarter by the campaign have varied widely, the most recent quarter (ended March 31) showed payments of $273,000 to law firms - including one new law firm. The campaign had nearly $100,000 in outstanding debts and a net cash on hand of only $127,793. 

By contrast, his best-funded Democratic challenge, Hiral Tipirneni, had net cash on hand of $1.1M. Cook Political Report only rates his seat as a "lean Republican" - only three GOP incumbents are listed as "toss-ups".

The uncertainty of whether the Ethics probe will be wrapped up - favorably or unfavorably - hangs over this race. And, given the Ethics Committee's uncertain rules, that cloud may not be one that goes away before November.

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