WASHINGTON—The House Committee on Ethics announced on Monday it will continue a review of whether Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., violated House rules and federal law through a hiring agreement he made with his former chief of staff, Doug Scofield, while declining to take the more serious step of creating a special panel to investigate the allegations.
The committee chairman, Rep. Michael Conway, R-Texas, and ranking member, Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., said in a four-paragraph statement they will continue to “gather additional information necessary” for the review and did not set a timetable for their work to be completed.
At issue is the $590,000 Scofield received over 10 years from federal funds allocated to run Gutierrez’s congressional office.
The ethics probe is looking at whether Scofield functioned as a contractor — which is permissible — or if his long-term relationship with Gutierrez’s congressional office was really more like that of a consultant who performed more like an employee, which is not allowed.
In announcing its decision, the ethics panel released the detailed findings of the Office of Congressional Ethics probe, launched last year in the wake of a June, 2013 USA Today story raising questions about the arrangement with Scofield.
The OCE said in its findings that an employee or consultant would be someone who “provides professional services,” while a contractor is someone who “performs a discrete task or job such as maintenance, data entry, custodial services or staff training.”
The OCE, created by the House of Representatives is a bi-partisan eight-member panel which has the authority to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. It is the ethics panel, however, made up of House members, who have the power to sanction one of their own.
Scofield’s contracts with the Gutierrez office said he would not work on legislative matters; the OCE report said that contrary to the contract, ”the information reviewed by the OCE indicates that Mr. Scofield may have had a significant role in the legislative work in Rep. Gutierrez’s office.”
The contracts called for Scofield to work on non-legislative matters in the areas of staff training, press outreach and preparing “remarks” and other guidance. The OCE investigators in their interviews with several past and present Gutierrez staffers asked about training efforts and the OCE report concluded “it does not appear that formal training was a significant part of the services Mr. Scofield provided.”
The OCE report said Gutierrez told its probers, Scofield was not “a ghost payroller.”
Scofield’s starting contract called for $4,500 a-month payments, upped to $6,000 monthly by the time Gutierrez canceled the deal last June after the USA Today report.
According to the OCE report, Gutierrez was not aware that Scofield was also a lobbyist, working on state of Illinois–not federal–matters.
OCE investigators interviewed Gutierrez for 85 minutes on Oct. 22, 2013 and said Scofield primarily worked on communications issues.
“Today’s announcement by the Committee reveals that it will not convene a special ethics panel. As the Committee reviews this matter, Congressman Gutiérrez and his office will continue to cooperate fully. As the Committee points out, its review does not indicate that any violation has occurred or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee,” Gutierrez spokesman Doug Rivlin said in a statement.
“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.
“As part of its review, the OCE examined questions relating to lobbying, campaign activities and the Congressman’s memoir. The OCE ultimately found no conduct on those issues that necessitated additional review by the House Committee on Ethics.
“The report reflects that Congressman Gutiérrez’s office submitted the entire contract for review by both the Committee on House Administration and the finance office of the House of Representatives before Mr. Scofield performed any work. The report also establishes that the Congressman’s office resubmitted the contract to the House at the beginning of each new Congress and that the contractual payments were disclosed in public, quarterly reports of disbursements for the House.
“The Congressman and his office cooperated fully with the inquiry of the OCE. The OCE requested ten years of records, files, notes and communications (including e-mails) between Doug Scofield and Congressman Gutiérrez and the Congressman’s staff. The Congressman and ten current or former staff members also voluntarily spoke with the OCE,” Rivlin said.
While Gutierrez talked to OCE investigators, Scofield declined to cooperate as did Jennice Fuentes, who followed Scofield as chief of staff, serving between 2002 and 2013, and Enrique Fernandez, who was his deputy chief of staff. The OCE, which does not have subpoena power, asked the ethics panel to force them to answer questions.
That Scofield is a close friend of Gutierrez — and the lawmaker threw him a lifeline at a critical point in Scofield’s life — is not in dispute. Scofield left Gutierrez to become deputy governor under now imprisoned Rod Blagojevich but stepped down after only a few months because, the OCE report said, he told Gutierrez he ”made a mistake in joining the governor’s administration.”
Gutierrez told the OCE that Scofield quit his Blagojevich job because “lots of political decisions were being made by the governor’s finance committee.”
After Scofield told Gutierrez he was going to launch his own consulting firm, Gutierrez told him “he wanted to be one of his first clients.”Also not under investigation is a separate deal between Scofield and Gutierrez to write Gutierrez’s memoir, published last year, titled “Still Dreaming: My Journey from the Barrio to Capitol Hill.” The OCE report disclosed that Scofield was paid a $55,000 advance from the publisher. Under House ethics rules, Gutierrez was not allowed to take a $65,000 advance.
Gutierrez lawyer Andrew Herman said the Scofield contracts were routinely submitted for review to the House Administration Committee and no one through the years raised any questions.
“I don’t think the report makes it clear that Congressman Gutierrez was under the impression that not only was this permissable, but blessed by the proper committee.”
In a statement, Scofield said, “the Office of Congressional Ethics report released today reveals the fact that the office of Congressman Gutierrez and I acted at all times in good faith to comply with the rules of the House and used official House funds only for official purposes precisely as the rules require. It seems the only justification for looking into this contract was to examine a very ill-defined linein the House rules that is supposed to distinguish “contractors” from “consultants.”
“The report released today confirms that I was paid withofficial funds to perform official work. Absurdly, the reportseems to fault me for performing too much official work, and for perhaps going beyond the undefined line that is supposed to govern the scope of work of “contractors.” If I performed too much official work, it was only because that work was allowed in a contract that was reviewed and authorized by the House of Representatives. That contract clearly detailed and allowed the range of official services I provided to the Congressman.
“The report does not identify any rule that prevents a personfrom doing too much official work in exchange for official funds. The Congressman, his staff and I worked diligently and consistently to follow the rules, and I believe this reportdemonstrates that if anything unusual occurred in this situation, it was only because the Congressman and his staff received erroneous or unclear guidance from the House of Representatives.
“While I appreciate the important role of any ethics review process, I think it’s a very poor use of government time and resources to study whether I worked too hard for Congressman Gutierrez.”