Ethics Watchdog Releases Top 5 Worst Ethics Violators of 2017
FACT Awards First Place to the Still Unknown Members of Congress Tied to the Sexual Harassment Settlement Fund
(Washington, D.C.) – December 18, 2017 - The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a non-partisan ethics watchdog group today released the group’s top five ethics violators of 2017. Ethics violations include a national party committee chairman paying former opponents with campaign funds, an elected official lavishly overcompensating a longtime girlfriend with taxpayer dollars, and a congressional chief of staff illegally holding and accepting a salary for two separate positions, among others. FACT awarded first place to all of the still unknown Members of Congress tied to the Office of Compliance (OOC)’s sexual harassment settlement fund. Every minute those names remain secret is another minute that our elected officials are not being held accountable for their reprehensible behavior.
“FACT addressed a number of ethical violations this year ranging from the misuse of government resources to egregious campaign finance violations. While each violation is different, at the heart of each case is a public official brazenly disregarding our nation’s laws and placing their own political interests above the law and the public good.” said Kendra Arnold, Executive Director, Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust. “FACT is proud to have played a leading role in exposing this wrongdoing and we are committed to continuing to bring unethical behavior to light and restoring people’s faith in our public officials.”
FACT’s Top 5 Worst Ethics Violators of 2017:
In November, FACT called for the immediate release of the names of all Members of Congress who have been connected to the $17 million in taxpayer funds that the Office of Compliance (OOC) has paid out to victims of sexual harassment and other forms of harassment and discrimination over the past 20 years. While Congress is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), FACT maintains that this is even more reason why releasing this information quickly is important—not only for the purposes of ensuring transparency in government, but to hold public officials accountable for unethical and criminal behavior.
In July, FACT filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) against Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) for continuing to employ and compensate House IT Aide, Imran Awan after he was barred from the House computer system and under criminal investigation. According to FACT’s complaint, Wasserman Schultz refused to remove Awan from House payroll and compensated Awan with taxpayer funds for several months – even though he was barred from the House computer system which would prevent him from performing any reasonable IT work. In fact, Wasserman Schultz only fired Awan after he was arrested on bank fraud charges attempting to flee the country the morning of July 25, 2017. Wasserman Schultz is in clear violation of House Ethics Rules as Members are directly responsible for ensuring their staff are only paid for official public work.
In January, FACT filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) against U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA) and his Chief of Staff, Michael Collins for improperly allowing Mr. Collins to simultaneously act as his campaign treasurer and chief of staff. House ethics rules impose significant limitations on outside employment including serving on ‘campaign organizations’. Even in the limited instances where outside employment is allowed, the amount that can be earned is capped at $27,255. Collins was earning $27,495 as Lewis’ campaign treasurer, a prohibited salary for a prohibited position. The House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into this breach of ethics rules by Rep. Lewis and Collins in June.
In March, FACT filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) against Democratic Representative Alcee Hastings (FL-20) for using taxpayer funds to overcompensate his longtime girlfriend Patricia Williams. Although the personal relationship between Rep. Hastings and Patricia Williams is not prohibited, Rep. Hastings has paid Williams the maximum salary permitted by law for several years and Williams is Hastings’ highest compensated employee. Typically, a Member’s chief of staff, the top person responsible for overall office functions, is the highest-paid person in a congressional office not the deputy director of the Member’s district office. Members are prohibited from retaining employees on the payroll who do not perform official duties commensurate with the compensation received. Williams has collected nearly $2.4 million in salary since 2000 for her work in the Broward County district office.
In October, FACT asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to investigate the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and its Chairman, Tom Perez for illegally transferring funds from his campaign account to pay off the debts of his former opponents. In 2016, Perez established “Team Tom,” an organization under 26 U.S.C. § 527 to raise money and make expenditures in his race to become DNC Chairman. A month after being elected DNC Chair in February 2017, Perez used over $27,000 in campaign funds to pay off the debts of his former opponents (Jamie Harrison, Jehmu Green and Sally Boynton) who dropped out of the chairman’s race and later supported
Perez’s candidacy. Since funds raised and spent by “Team Tom” were non-federal funds and Chairman Perez directed those funds to his former opponents while in his official capacity at the DNC, both the DNC and Perez broke multiple campaign finance laws.
In April, FACT filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) against Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) for improperly using taxpayer funded resources to campaign for Jon Ossoff, his former aide. According to FACT’s complaint, Rep. Johnson used his official House website to promote Ossoff’s Congressional bid to replace U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, in the House of Representatives. At the time, recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution stories about Ossoff and 6th District voting were featured on Johnson’s official website. According to the House Ethics Manual, a lawmaker’s official website “may not include personal, political or campaign information.” After being contacted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution about this issue, Congressman Johnson’s office deleted the offending material.
FACT is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency in government and civic arenas. For more on FACT, visit: http://www.factdc.org/.