Keerthi Vedantam

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

House Ethics panel releases details in ongoing probe of Schweikert

WASHINGTON – The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday released details of its probe of Rep. David Schweikert, R-Fountain Hills, that began last year finding “substantial reason to believe” he may have approved improper office expenditures and campaign contributions.

Under committee rules, the original report of the Office of Congressional Ethics had to be released because it has gone more than a year without resolution. That report, which kicked off the committee’s investigation, said Schweikert’s failure to oversee the expenditures may have violated “House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law.”

In releasing the April 2018 report Wednesday, the Ethics Committee was careful to note that continuing the investigation “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.” Critics were not so reticent.

“Arizonans in CD-6 (Schweikert’s district) can’t afford to be represented any longer by someone who so blatantly puts his own self-interest ahead of his constituents,” said Arizona Democratic Party spokesman Les Braswell in a statement that called Schweikert’s campaign “is nearly as bankrupt as his character.”

But political consultant Mike Noble, who once work for Schweikert, said he would be surprised if the investigation ultimately turns up anything.

“He’s probably one of the most ethical, by-the-book people I’ve ever met. He’s a very traditional, fiscally conservative Republican,” Noble said of Schweikert. “I guess nothing is out of the realm of possibility but I’d be very surprised to say the least.”

Requests for comment from Schweikert’s office were not immediately returned Wednesday. But Schweikert in the past has dismissed the claims in the investigation as little more than a bookkeeping error he was confident would be cleared up.

In an interview with Fox News on the investigation last year, Schweikert said the error was “my fault. Our fault. We should have caught it.”

Noble said Wednesday that “if there was an issue it would be a staff issue.”

Despite claims that it was just an oversight, however, Federal Election Commission reports filed this week showed the Schweikert’s campaign owes more than $200,000 in legal fees. Politico reported that most of the legal fees are owed to a law firm that specializes in campaign finance matters.

The investigation turns on payments to Chartwell, a political consulting firm that was run by Oliver Schwab, Schweikert’s former chief of staff.

In FEC reports last year, Schweikert’s campaign reported $181,637.09 in expenditures to Chartwell and another $50,372.14 in reimbursements from the company to the campaign, possibly exceeding the amount congressional staffers can earn in outside pay.

Noble said he could “see why some might think” that the legal bill reported by Schweikert’s campaign indicates more trouble than the five-term House member is letting on.

“If you’re looking at it, then of course if it’s not a big issue then why is there such a large amount of legal bills?” Noble asked.

But Noble said he does not think constituents in Schweikert’s traditionally red district will see it that way.

“I don’t think it is a nail on the coffin by any stretch,” Noble said. “He’ll just have to work a little harder on his re-election.”

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