By Jordy Yager - 03/19/13 04:06 PM EDT
The House Ethics Committee announced on Tuesday that it has launched a formal investigation into allegations that a House Democratic leader used campaign funds to take family trips.
The inquiry focusing on Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) could be a headache for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who famously vowed to “drain the swamp” of corruption in the House.
In 2012, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) released a report that charged Andrews with tapping tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds to pay for a 2011 trip to a wedding in Scotland and multiple jaunts to Los Angeles with his daughters.
The OCE is an outside panel made up of former lawmakers and legal experts. It referred the case to the House Ethics Committee last year, citing “substantial reason to believe that he improperly used congressional campaign and Leadership PAC funds for personal use.”
Andrews has argued the trips were political because the groom in the Scotland wedding and his daughters were volunteer campaign aides.
OCE sharply disagreed, stating that the House Democrat “engaged in no political activity, gave no political speeches, raised no campaign funds and did not discuss his campaign.”
The Ethics Committee on Tuesday also announced the creation of a separate investigative subcommittee to look into charges that Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) allegedly violated House ethics rules by not appropriately disclosing expenses and travel costs.
The secretive 10-member Ethics Committee set up the subcommittees late last month, but notified the public on Tuesday. The panel’s subcommittees will decide whether to formally punish the House lawmakers.
Months after the Ethics Committee announced that it was conducting an initial investigation of Andrews, Pelosi selected him as a co-chairman of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
Democratic leaders have not commented on the investigation.
Last month, former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) pleaded guilty to using $750,000 in campaign funds to pay for living expenses. Jackson received a sentence of 46 to 57 months in prison.
A series of articles in The Star Ledger, of Newark, N.J., allege that Andrews used more than $9,000 in campaign funds to pay for a trip to Scotland with his wife and two children, and more than $10,000 to host a party at Andrews’s home celebrating his congressional service and his daughter’s graduation.
The newspaper also reported that Andrews’s campaign made a $12,500 donation to a local theater gala, where his daughter was performing at the time.
Andrews rebuffed the allegations on Tuesday, saying that he is not guilty of the “politically motivated” charges leveled against him.
“As I have previously stated, this continuing review by the House Ethics Committee will establish and confirm that I have always followed all the rules and met all the standards of the House,” he said in a statement.
“I will eagerly provide any and all information requested by the Committee in response to the false and politically-motivated and, in some instances, anonymous accusations the committee will review.”
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a separate complaint against Andrews last year with the Federal Election Commission, citing the same Star Ledger articles.
In a later statement, CREW alleged that Andrews directed $8,700 in campaign contributions to his wife’s employer, the Rutgers Law School in Camden, where she is associate dean of enrollment.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) was selected as chairman of the Andrews investigative subcommittee, with Del. Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico) serving as its ranking member.
The Ethics Committee, which is led by Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and ranking member Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), said it is also formally investigating allegations into Young’s expenses and travel costs for certain trips.
The investigation comes on the heels of the Justice Department’s lengthy investigation into whether Young accepted gifts from the oil industry in exchange for political favors. Young has pointed to the department’s refusal to prosecute those allegations as proof of his innocence.
Separately, the committee cleared Young of wrongdoing for donations made in 2011 to the Don Young Legal Expense Fund that were suspected of exceeding the contribution limit. Young asked the Ethics panel to look into the matter when he first heard of the allegations.
Young has denied any wrongdoing.
“Congressman Young has cooperated with the committee and will continue to do so,” said Mike Anderson, press secretary for Young.
Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) will serve as chairman of the Young investigative subcommittee with Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) as it ranking member.