Ending congressional investigations pending for years, the House Ethics Committee on Thursday determined that, in separate cases, U.S. Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Bobby Rush, Illinois Democrats, violated House rules and ordered payments made to the U.S. Treasury.
The Rush reviews had been prompted by a Better Government Association / Chicago Sun-Times investigation of the congressman’s paying zero rent on a campaign office in the Lake Meadows strip mall on the South Side for 20 years.
The 10-member House ethics panel — evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats — also handed Rush and Gutierrez each a public reprimand called a “reproval.”
Here are the details:
Gutierrez must pay $9,700 for what the ethics panel determined in a 34-page report was the “inadvertent” misuse of funds allocated to members to run their government office.
At issue was Gutierrez hiring his former chief of staff, Doug Scofield, to advise his congressional office. Gutierrez retained Scofield Communications between 2003 to 2013. The major question was whether Scofield, a consultant, was acting in some circumstances as official staff.
The panel found “no reason to believe” Gutierrez “or his office intentionally misused” government funds.
Gutierrez and Scofield have been close for years. In his memoir, “Still Dreaming: My Journey” Gutierrez credits Scofield with being his “partner” on the book project.
The watchdog Office of Congressional Ethics, created by Congress, launched a probe in 2013 about the hiring arrangement and passed its findings to the ethics panel, which has the power to sanction members.
On Dec. 4, 2013, the OCE transmitted its findings to the ethics committee. Over the past five years, the committee has reviewed 10,000 documents and interviewed 16 people, including Gutierrez and Scofield.
Rush was ordered to pay $13,310 for taking what the ethics panel said in a 26-page report was an “impermissible gift” of free office space in his South Side congressional district.
The panel slapped Rush “for his significant, though unintentional violation of the Gift Rule.”
Another matter was whether Rush improperly used his campaign fund to donate money to the church he founded — Beloved Community Christian Church — where his son was employed.
An issue was whether the free space was really an improper in-kind campaign contribution.
The OCE sent its findings to the ethics panel on June 10, 2014.
The ethics panel concluded that Rush “did not” convert any campaign funds to personal use.
In a written statement, Rush said: “I accept the Ethics Committee’s recommendation that I take personal responsibility for paying the U.S. Treasury.”
Rush has been struggling with tangled finances for years. Last week, a Cook County judge ordered the garnishment of more than $2,100 a month from Rush’s $174,000 annual House salary to pay back a $1 million delinquent loan for his church at 6430 S. Harvard Ave.