Ethics panel extends Gutierrez review

The House Ethics Committee on Monday extended its review into whether Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) violated the law and broke House rules by using his office budget to pay a former aide.

The ethics review, first revealed in March, was sent to the committee by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which concluded there is "substantial reason to believe" the congressman's office retained former chief of staff Douglas Scofield "in violation of federal law and House rules."

ADVERTISEMENT
The Ethics committee on Monday made the OCE report public for the first time. Ethics Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) on Monday decided not to create a special panel to look into the charges but also declined to end the investigation.

According to committee rules, it will gather additional information “unless and until an investigative subcommittee has been established.” The chairman and ranking member can also choose to end the probe on their own.

“Today's announcement by the Committee reveals that it will not convene a special ethics panel," Gutiérrez spokesman Douglas Rivlin said in a statement, downplaying the decision. "As the Committee reviews this matter, Congressman Gutiérrez and his office will continue to cooperate fully.

“After its exhaustive review, the OCE made a single recommendation that the House Committee on Ethics assess whether the approved contract was permissible under ambiguous House rules," he added.

The committee is reviewing allegations that Scofield was hired by Gutiérrez’s office, after he left the congressman’s staff. He was paid $595,000 since 2002. Scofield opened his own consulting firm and registered as an Illinois state lobbyist in 2003.

The OCE said Scofield acted more like a "consultant" to the congressman than a "contractor." Individual members are not allowed to retain consultants though official office funds.

Scofield helped with media and press matters as well as drafting remarks and speeches, some for committee hearings and the House floor. He also worked personally with the congressman.

"The OCE found that the services he performed more closely resembled those performed by an employee or consultant — someone who provides professional advice or services — than those performed by a contractor — someone who performs a discrete task or job such as maintenance, data entry, custodial services, or staff training," the OCE said in its report.

Gutiérrez ended his decadelong contract with Scofield last year after USA Today reported on it. At the time, the House Administration Committee recommended that the contract not go forward in its current form. 

The report found the congressman's office sent a copy of the contract to the House Administration Committee but never heard back, leading them to believe there were no problems with the agreement.

In his statement, Gutiérrez said the OCE also investigated other questions regarding lobbying, campaign activity and the production of the congressman's memoir but found no impermissible conduct in those areas. The congressman and Scofield both denied that Scofield engaged in lobbying the congressman on behalf of his state clients. He was a registered lobbyist only at the state level. 

The congressman and a number of his senior staffers cooperated with the investigation. However, Scofield and two others declined to be interviewed.

The OCE recommended the Ethics Committee subpoena Scofield, Jennice Fuentez, the congressman's former chief of staff, and Enrique Fernandez, his former deputy chief of staff.

Since last year, Gutiérrez has spent nearly $30,000 in legal fees from his campaign account, according to federal election records.