Rep. David Schweikert racking up legal bills in House ethics probe (Updated)

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POLITICO is reporting today that Arizona Republican Schweikert runs up legal bills in House ethics probe:

Rep. David Schweikert is running up big legal bills as the House Ethics Committee investigates the Arizona Republican’s dealings with his former top aide and other employees.

Schweikert owes more than $229,000 to law firms, according to his just-released campaign filings. And that’s on top of the tens of thousands of dollars he has already paid his defense team during the ethics probe.

In fact, Schweikert’s legal debts nearly equal the cash on hand his reelection committee reported as of March 30, according to his filing with the Federal Election Commission. Schweiker’s legal debts were more than $229,000, while the reelection campaign had slightly less than $241,000 in the bank. Overall debt by Schweikert’s reelection committee amounted to more than $251,000, meaning Schweikert’s campaign owes more than it has on hand.

Most of Schweikert’s legal debt is owed to the firm Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky PLLC, which specializes in campaign finance regulations, among other areas. Schweikert owes that firm more than $206,000, the FEC reports show.

Schweikert’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Schweikert reported raising just under $167,000 in 2019’s first quarter, an anemic amount for a veteran lawmaker who holds a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Roughly 40 percent of that total came from corporate PACs, according to the new FEC filing. Schweikert was first elected in 2010.

The House Ethics Committee — following an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics, the independent ethics watchdog — launched a formal probe last year into allegations that Schweikert misspent official funds and received illegal campaign contributions from his former chief of staff, Oliver Schwab, and other employees, according to a statement from the panel.

The Ethics Committee said in December that it was looking into whether “Representative Schweikert may have used official resources to benefit his campaign or pressured congressional staff to perform political activity,” whether Schweikert “authorized compensation to an employee who did not perform duties commensurate with his House employment,” whether Schweikert or his campaign committee “received loans or gifts from a congressional employee” and whether Schweikert failed to include information on his annual financial disclosure reports or FEC filings.

Schweikert has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in his dealings with Schwab, dismissing it as a matter of “clerical mistakes.”

Yet Schweikert’s growing legal debts demonstrate the challenges the Ethics Committee probe poses for the Arizona Republican. Schweikert owed just under $95,000 to his lawyers at the end of 2018, according to FEC records.

All of this should be good news for Schweikert’s likely Democratic opponent in 2020, assuming that he is even in a position to run. Democrat Hiral Tipirneni running in GOP-leaning district against Rep. David Schweikert:

Hiral Tipirneni, the physician and cancer research advocate who made a splash running for Congress as a Democrat in deeply Republican territory twice last year, is making another run, this time against five-term incumbent Rep. David Schweikert.

Tipirneni filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission making official something she had been telegraphing for months: that she intended to run in Schweikert’s Scottsdale-based 6th Congressional District.

It means Tipirneni will run outside the district where she lives and Democrats will have a formidable fundraiser and aggressive campaigner in a Republican-leaning district the party has made its No. 1 target in Arizona in 2020.

Last year, Tipirneni lost twice to Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., in the northwest Valley-based 8th Congressional District. Tipirneni lost by only 5 percentage points in the first race, a special election to replace Trent Franks, a Republican who quit in 2017 midway through his eighth House term after allegations of sexual misconduct involving his staff.

It was an exceptional showing in a part of the state where Democrats haven’t won a congressional race since 1980 and marked her as a candidate to watch. In a rematch with Lesko in November, which featured higher turnout in the GOP-heavy district, Lesko won by 11 percentage points.

Tipirneni is expected to again make health care a major theme of her campaign. Last year, Tipirneni advocated for expanding Medicare to serve as a public insurance option for more than seniors and said she wants to increase Social Security revenue. She said she would do that by raising the withholding tax or increasing the amount of income subject to that tax.

Contribute your time and money to Hiral Tipirneni for Congress to make this No. 1 target race a Democratic pickup.

UPDATE: The DCCC has issued a press release:

BREAKING: Report Finds “Substantial Reason” to Believe Schweikert Broke Ethics Rules

Schweikert’s re-election prospects dim as House Ethics Committee debunks his talking points

Yesterday, we learned that legal fees associated with an ongoing investigation into potentially illegal handling of tax dollars and improper campaign contributions havenearly bankrupted Congressman David Schweikert’s re-election campaign. Today, a damaging report released by the House Ethics Committee has made things worse for the embattled Congressman, finding that there’s “substantial reason” to believe Schweikert improperly billed campaign expenses to his congressional office. As the Arizona Republic noted, “It is rare for the Ethics Committee to create a panel to investigate a House member, and for such a panel to expand its scope in the middle of an investigation,” as it did in Schweikert’s case late last year.

The bipartisan Ethics Committee voted unanimously to investigate the allegations against Schweikert, who has repeatedly told Arizona voters that his potentially illegal handling of resources was nothing more than a “bookkeeping issue.”

“Unfortunately for David Schweikert, these ethics problems aren’t going anywhere – they’re actually getting worse.” said DCCC Spokesperson Brooke Goren. “The rampant corruption and dishonesty Schweikert embodies is exactly what hardworking Arizonans hate about Washington, and it’s going to cost him this seat next year.”

Arizona Republic: House Ethics Committee found ‘substantial reason’ to think Arizona Rep. David Schweikert broke rules

By Ron Hansen

Key Points:

·         ”The U.S. House Ethics Committee acknowledged Wednesday that its unanimous decision to investigate Rep. David Schweikert last year had “substantial reason” to believe he improperly billed campaign expenses to his congressional office.”

·         “[Schweikert] has often cast the matter as a bookkeeping issue, though investigators have taken more than 18 months to sort out the money trail.”

·         “’Schweikert’s campaign committees may have accepted contributions from an individual who was employed in Rep. Schweikert’s congressional office, in the form of individual outlays that later were reimbursed by the campaign committees,’” the committee’s 2018 report said. That could flout House rules and federal law, the committee noted.”

·         “In December, that subcommittee widened its investigation of Schweikert to include other aspects only hinted at in its limited statements, such as whether Schweikert had omitted required information from his annual financial-disclosure statements and campaign finance reports… It is rare for the Ethics Committee to create a panel to investigate a House member, and for such a panel to expand its scope in the middle of an investigation.”

·         “Any misspending could be a problem for Schweikert, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.”

·         “Schweikert downplayed the issue last year, saying he welcomed the scrutiny. ‘It’s almost wonderful because this is the process we needed so we could present,’ he said at the time. ‘There’s really no mechanism to say, ‘Look, here’s our clerical screw-up and here’s how we fixed it.’ You need the subcommittee because that’s the way you get to present what you’ve taken care of.’”

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