GOP Rep. Schmidt fails to raise funds to pay Ethics panel fines

Since losing her primary election in March, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) has failed to raise any of the roughly $500,000 that the House Ethics Committee ordered her to pay.

The Ethics panel told Schmidt last August to repay nearly half a million dollars in services she accepted from lawyers with the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund (TALDF), but she has raised only $5,000 so far.

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In five months the Ohio Republican will leave Congress and will no longer be required to pay back the money, according to people familiar with the chamber’s ethics rules.

A spokesman for Schmidt did not return a request for comment. But Schmidt’s office pointed to a legal expense fund that she established as evidence that, “she wants to pay these bills,” according to previous remarks made to USA Today.

But according to the latest financial filing this week for the fund, Schmidt did not raise any money from April through June to meet the Ethics committee’s mandate. Schmidt paid down part of the legal debt with about $43,000 earlier this year.

In its report to the Ethics committee last year, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) found that the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA) paid lawyers with the TALDF “approximately $500,000 for legal services provided to Representative Schmidt” over a two-year period.

The Ethics committee declined to launch a subcommittee to officially investigate Schmidt, which would have allowed the panel to sanction the four-term lawmaker.

Instead, committee Chairman Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) ordered Schmidt to “repay the improper gift” and authorized her to accept contributions through the “Jean Schmidt Legal Expense Trust.”

The committee, in its report, said that Schmidt had cooperated extensively with congressional investigators and was unaware that the TCA had paid for her legal services.

“Given the evidence that Representative Schmidt lacked knowledge of the arrangement, the committee does not believe that any sanction is necessary,” the report stated.

And while her actions technically violated House ethics rules, the panel concluded that paying back the roughly $500,000 in services would be sufficient punishment, and it authorized her to raise money through her legal fund to help do so.

But the only outside contribution to the fund came in January from Global Eclipse, a Delaware limited liability company that donated $5,000. And though the Ethics committee approved the company’s contribution, several of Global Eclipse’s top managers have Turkish ties, which raised eyebrows in the press, considering the nature of the allegations first levied against Schmidt.

Schmidt lost her reelection bid in March to GOP challenger Brad Wenstrup, who made the shadow of the probe and other ethics questions central to his campaign against the incumbent lawmaker.

The legal fees that Schmidt was ordered to pay back arose during a lawsuit she brought in 2010 against her former Democratic opponent David Krikorian, who she sued, accusing him of making false statements about her during his campaign for the Ohio seat.