He’s refused to explain the source of hundreds of thousands of dollars in income. He’s threatened to bring criminal charges against anyone who published his mughshot. He’s ranted on Twitter. He’s invited Ted Nugent to the State of the Union. And now, with his short-yet-tumultuous second tenure in Congress winding down, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) has been accused of breaking the law.
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) announced on Wednesday that it had urged the House Ethics Committee to look into the circumstances surrounding Stockman’s acceptance of $15,000 in campaign contributions from two of his congressional staffers. According to OCE, Stockman may have violated federal laws and House rules by conspiring to accept campaign money from staff members, and then making false statements and impeding OCE’s investigation.
The allegations, and Stockman’s subsequent attempts to explain and change his story, were presented in detail in OCE’s report to the House Ethics Committee.
Here’s what OCE says happened.
On Jan. 3, 2013, the day he was sworn into office after more than 15 years out of Congress, Stockman hired Jason Posey and Thomas Dodd to work in his congressional office. According to OCE, Posey was hired at a salary of $60,000, while Dodd was hired at $50,000. When Stockman’s campaign filed its next report with the Federal Election Commission, it listed $15,000 in contributions made on the same day, Feb. 21, by both Dodd’s mother, Jane Dodd, and Posey’s father, Donnie Posey. The contributions came in three $2,500 checks from each person, covering the three elections — primary, general, and runoff — in which Stockman ran in 2012.
The contributions were unusual enough to attract the attention of the Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group, which started poking around. The group got in touch with Jane Dodd, who said she had no memory of making the contribution. The foundation then published an article raising questions about the donations. Six days after the Sunlight Foundation published its article, Stockman’s campaign amended its report to the FEC, attributing the money to Jason Posey and Thomas Dodd. After the Sunlight Foundation published a subsequent article questioning whether the donations violated federal laws, Stockman’s campaign responded again. The day after the second Sunlight piece, the campaign amended its FEC report to say the money had been refunded.
Here’s where things started getting weird. In November 2013, after OCE informed Stockman that it was looking into the donations, Stockman’s campaign filed yet another amended FEC report. This one changed the date that the donations were made, from Feb. 21 to Feb. 12. (Posey, by the way, was the one signing all these FEC reports, according to the OCE.)
OCE reported getting two responses from Stockman regarding the investigation. The first, OCE said, came from Stockman’s legislative director who acknowledged the contributions from the staff members and “emphasized remedial measures” that Stockman had taken. (Posey and Dodd were fired.) The initial response blamed an accountant who was volunteering for Stockman’s campaign, Rabih Zeidan, for giving Posey and Dodd bad advice. But in January, Stockman himself wrote a letter to OCE, in which the congressman “introduced additional facts that contradicted both his initial response to the OCE and statements made to the FEC,” according to OCE. Here’s what Stockman claimed: the contributions made by Posey and Dodd had been OK, because they were not technically Stockman’s employees when they wrote the checks. Stockman explained that Posey and Dodd resigned from his office on Feb. 12, then wrote the checks, and then were rehired by Stockman on Feb. 13.
“At first blush I was pleased with their actions,” Stockman wrote in his letter to OCE, referring to his staff members resignations. “But as I began thinking about the situation later that day, 12 February, I became what I would describe as mildly annoyed that they had presumed to take these significant actions of resigning without consulting me first to determine whether I would welcome the resignations . . . . After thinking about the matter and sleeping on it, on 13 February I asked both men to meet with me personally. I thanked them for their contributions and dedication, but told both that it would be my preference that they agree to return to federal service in my congressional office. I pointed out that since both had made the contributions at a time when they were not employees, the contributions were completely lawful and within their constitutional rights. I further argued that their having made such contributions could not render them ineligible for subsequent federal service . . . . I asked both to return to employment in my office, and both agreed. I then appointed both men to their positions at their previous salaries.”
OCE reported that while Dodd offered Stockman a written resignation (and Posey didn’t), Stockman did not file any paperwork regarding the resignation and rehiring of his two aides until after OCE began its investigation. Here’s the reason Stockman gave:
“[M]y office was essentially told, ‘There’s absolutely no point in bothering with all of this paperwork and red tape, because it ain’t going to make any difference anyway; you’re just making busy work for the House financial accounting folks,’” Stockman wrote. “In deference to this attitude, we simply acquiesced until the false appearances created by the incomplete administrative record compelled us to set the record straight.”
The OCE report indicates that Stockman, Posey, Dodd, Zeidan, and others refused requests to be interviewed by investigators.
On Wednesday, the House Ethics Committee issued a statement acknowledging receipt of OCE’s referral. It also made public a response to the allegations submitted to the committee by Jonathan Noltie, a lawyer representing Stockman. On Stockman’s behalf, Noltie strenuously rejected the allegations, and accused OCE of conducting its investigation with a “lack of objectivity and competence.”
“Rep. Stockman made a thorough and honest statement to the OCE about the events surrounding the subject contributions. In drawing its conclusions, the OCE chose to ignore certain aspects of that response letter (including the resignation letter of Tom Dodd attached to it), and to distort and selectively excerpt certain other aspects of it to twist its evidentiary value and work a perversion of its meaning,” Noltie wrote, later adding: “Notwithstanding the OCE Board’s stated conclusion that there is ‘substantial reason’ to believe Rep. Stockman conspired to accept contributions from staff employees, the Report cites no such evidence.”