/House Ethics Committee confirms probe into Rep Palazzo’s campaign spending What’s next

House Ethics Committee confirms probe into Rep Palazzo’s campaign spending What’s next

Late Thursday, the panel issued a statement stating that Ted Deutsch, Florida’s Ethics Chairman, and Kenny Marchant, Texas’s ranking Republican member, had decided to “extend” the matter concerning Representative Steven Palazzo. It is both a formal statement of facts but also a very consequential admission. The statement does not directly indicate any violation, nor reflect any judgment by the Committee. It is the first time that the panel has publicly admitted it is investigating Palazzo. Palazzo’s spokeswoman, who denied any wrongdoing by her boss, said Harper has been hired. Harper said Friday that he believes the matter would be “completely dismissed”. Palazzo is accused in sending $30,000 in monthly rental payments to Greene Acres MS, a Perkinston property company. More than $146,000 was sent to Palazzo’s ex-wife’s accounting business, which Palazzo ran before moving to Congress. Harper stated that he believes the allegations are misunderstood Palazzo’s financial arrangements. “There were claims that Palazzo had received money or his LLC, which was for Perkinson. This was false. Harper stated that it was for D’Iberville’s campaign office. Harper said, “So we will be able to clear it up and show that this was a legitimate campaign agency, that this was within regulations and was appropriate and that there is nothing unethical regarding paying two accounting firms for their work.” Mississippi Today previously reported on questionable spending including thousands of dollars on liquor and wine, purchases from a tactical clothes outfitter, a boot shop, university campus stores, and money spent on golf expenses, trailers, and sporting events. Roll Call also reported suspicious purchases related to car maintenance and home maintenance. Harper stated that he hopes to resolve all these issues with the Ethics Committee. READ MORE: Rep. Steven Palazzo ethics inquiry: Is the congressman’s campaign account a slush funds? Palazzo’s staff previously denied the allegations and called them “politically motivated” but argued that the spending was correct. Although a campaign spokesperson has stated that all expenses were above board, he said to Mississippi Today that the campaign made a mistake when it purchased a fold-up wallbed and continuing accounting education for Palazzo. Since then, he has refunded those purchases. Timeline for updates Thursday’s Ethics Committee statement means that the clock is ticking before the committee can let the public know more. It establishes a timeline for an investigation, which must be started or dismissed. The timetable also sets out a date when a decision will be made. This could be to either start a full investigation into Palazzo or hand it to the Department of Justice. Or allow the public to see a complete report on the investigation. Harper stated that he expected everything to be completed by the committee, and possibly wrapped up during the 117th Congress. To determine when these things might happen, Harper said that it takes a basic understanding of Congressional rules and a bit of math. The statement noted that the OCE received a referral about the Palazzo case from the Office of Congressional Ethics on Sept. 2. This independent watchdog investigates allegations of wrongdoing, and makes recommendations to Ethics Committee. The OCE’s investigation was likely prompted by a March complaint from Campaign Legal Center, an electoral reform group. This complaint was brought forward by Palazzo’s opposition in the GOP primary. One or more of them hired an investigator to investigate it. The ethics announcement would normally have been made much sooner. However, it was delayed by the Ethics Committee’s internal rules. They effectively stop all proceedings within 60 days of an election. This is because the panel is afraid of getting involved in any matter that could be politicized or affect the outcome of a race. The review was simply extended by the committee, which then began a new 45-day period to complete its work. This is common in almost all ethics cases. The maximum time the committee has to decide on the best course of action in a case is 90 days. Normal circumstances would give the Ethics Committee 45 days to decide on what next. It would then have to disclose to the public that it has appointed an investigative subcommittee that will litigate the allegations or that the Justice Department is handling the investigation. The full report of the investigation into Palazzo would be released by the Office of Congressional Ethics if neither of these happens or the Ethics Committee decides to dismiss the case. The OCE report will be released after one year if the Ethics Committee decides that an investigative subcommittee is empanelled. However, the subcommittee’s work would be completed sooner. If the Department of Justice becomes involved, the OCE will generally hold off on releasing any report until it receives the approval from federal prosecutors. It is difficult to predict when the public will learn more about Palazzo’s case. The clock will be ticking for 45 days until the close of the Congress on January 3, 2021. The clock will not start over at the next Congress. The count does not officially begin again until all members of the Ethics Committee have been seated and appointed, and the panel holds its first meeting. This process could take a while. A new Congress usually takes around a month to get things moving. However, it may take longer this year as several of the Ethics Committee’s top Democratic and Republican members will need to be replaced. Marchant will be retiring while Deutsch will remain as chairman for a term limit. It is possible to estimate when Palazzo will be available for the public to learn more about his situation. This could happen in the first quarter 2021. It will have to take place 28 days after the 117th Congress’s first Ethics Committee meeting. This meeting could be private and not be public. Ex-Rep. Duncan Hunter, from California, was the last ethics case to be transferred from one Congress to another. He pleaded guilty to stealing campaign money for personal use for items as insignificant as movie tickets, fast food and sneakers, as well as for mundane things like groceries, dog food and utilities. The Ethics Committee referred the case to them in late 2016, but it was not until March 2017 that they announced that the Justice Department would be taking over. Hunter pleaded guilty almost three years later. Geoff Pender, a Mississippi Today reporter, contributed to this report.