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FACT Releases “Top Ethics Violators of 2023”




Continued Inaction by the Office of Congressional Ethics has Paralyzed Ethics Enforcement and Undermined Public Trust

 

At the end of each year, FACT releases its list of “Top Ethics Violators.” Some years, individuals are chosen based on the severity of their violations. Other years, the Top Ethics Violators are chosen because of a common law or rule being violated, for instance last year this unceremonious prize was given for late and inaccurate personal financial disclosures.

 

This year, in an unprecedented move, FACT has chosen the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) as its “Top Ethics Violator of 2023.”


The OCE was created in 2008 after the House Ethics Committee failed to act on legal and ethical violations committed by Members, which plainly demonstrated the Committee’s consistent reluctance to impose penalties against their fellow Members and the inadequacy of the U.S. House to self-police. The OCE was designed to act on the public’s behalf and be an independent evaluator to expose ethics violations–not to fall in line with the Ethics Committee and follow its example of inaction. While the ultimate punishment for violations continues to lie with the House Ethics Committee, the OCE’s role is to identify and bring the facts and laws to the attention of the public.

 

In 2023, a major issue became Members of Congress repeatedly using official government resources for political and campaign purposes. The rules on this are quite clear, yet they are repeatedly violated by a handful of Members. The most obvious violations are Members using official government resources to campaign on their political social media accounts or using official government platforms to campaign. 

 

Though to some it may seem like a simple thing on the surface, those choosing to break this law do it for a reason–it advantages them politically. The various codes governing elected officials’ behavior all purposefully–and wisely–prevent Members from blatantly leveraging their currently held office to either get reelected or to use their position to gain a future position. The act of using sanctioned government platforms to spread political messages furthers their cause by both giving the Member a wider and less partisan audience than their campaign platforms have, and also by lending their message an ‘official’ credibility that it would not otherwise have. Put simply, this practice is the Member abusing their position of incumbency to campaign in its purest form. Moreover, they are actually using taxpayer funds to benefit their campaign. 

 

The OCE, for its part, has failed to swiftly and decisively address this egregious practice and these Members continue to do it to this day with impunity. Making this situation worse is the nature of the transgression and the ease of proving it–there are no reems of documents to fine-comb through here. These violations are literally published by the Member, all occur on a public-facing platform, and evidence of the violation can be found and proven merely by going to Twitter.com. Although the OCE has identified these exact same ethics violations in past years, it has simply failed in 2023. For this utter failure to enforce a very basic ethics rule, the OCE has earned this distinct dishonor.

 

Some notable examples on this issue are:


Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota used her TikTok account, which is banned on House devices, for both official and political purposes. On her TikTok, she has posted overtly political content, including a video of her urging followers to support Democrat candidates, a message to Democrats volunteering for campaigns, and several videos of her campaigning and attending campaign events. She has also illegally made posts that used official government resources, including C-SPAN footage from the House floor, what appears to be a cell phone video recorded on the House floor, and an interview from what appears to be her House office.

 

Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York maintains both a campaign/political TikTok account and an official TikTok account and has posted political content on his official account, filmed and posted political content inside the U.S. Capitol building on his political accounts, and posted identical political content on both his official and political accounts, all of which are violations of House Ethics rules.

 

Rep. Eric Swalwell of California posted a video of official House Committee proceedings to his campaign Twitter account. Even more egregious is that he overlaid his campaign logo with his campaign slogan on the video, which is the same logo used on Swalwell’s campaign Twitter account and campaign website.

 

Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri used her campaign Twitter account to quote-tweet a video from C-SPAN of her disrupting official House proceedings a day prior. When it went viral, she added a threaded tweet soliciting campaign donations through Act Blue, which of course is a clear violation of the law and House Ethics rules.

 

Rep. Maxwell Frost of Florida has a campaign Twitter account on which he posts campaign materials and links to his campaign website, yet on this account he also directly links to his official Congressional Twitter account. On his campaign Twitter account, he has used official government resources multiple times, including re-posting official government content containing official photographs, work product, and Congressional social media posts.

 

Other violators of this rule whom FACT filed complaints against in 2023 are:

Rep. Wiley Nickel of North Carolina

Rep. Jimmy Gomez of California

Rep. Jeff Jackson of North Carolina

Rep. Eric Sorenson of Illinois


FACT’S 2023 DISHONORABLE MENTIONS:

 

Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia: According to a financial disclosure report filed by Sen. Warnock, he received $154,895 from Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2022, of which $125,000 was described as “deferred compensation for services before January 20, 2021.” This was the first time the alleged deferred compensation ($125,000) had been reported by Sen. Warnock on a financial disclosure form. which he claims was earned before he was sworn in as a U.S. Senator. Ebenezer Baptist Church also reportedly failed to report the liability of $125,000 on any prior financial statements.


La MachineSince October of 2019, campaign disclosure reports show Antonio Valdovinos (founder and CEO of the political consulting firm, La Machine) has made at least 17 monetary contributions to federal political committees. Given his status as a foreign national, these political donations would be unlawful. However, his contributions to federal elections were not limited to the strictly monetary. In 2014, Valdovinos worked as a paid campaign staffer to help elect then-state legislator Rubén Gallego to the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition to these two apparent violations, Valdovinos continues to work for multiple political parties and candidates to influence U.S. federal elections through his political consulting firm which he founded in 2016. All of the above would seem to be blatant violations of federal law.


Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin and her political action committee named GWEN PAC: According to data submitted to the FEC by GWEN PAC, since its inception only a mere 22% of GWEN PAC's overall spending has gone towards political candidates and political committees, while around 78% has gone to other spending---much of which appears to have likely benefited Rep. Moore. These percentages fall in line with the common definition of a ‘scam PAC’.

 

Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York: FACT’s complaint asked the OCE to investigate Rep. Bowman’s intentional pulling of a fire alarm in the Cannon House Office Building on September 30, 2023, which disrupted official House proceedings including an anticipated vote. Regardless of motive, his intentional pulling of the fire alarm, whether to explicitly delay a vote or not, is a severe violation of House Ethics Rules. FACT later submitted a supplemental complaint after Rep. Bowman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the D.C. Code and video conclusively revealed that his actions were indeed intentional.


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