Watchdogs in the House Ethics Committee are sniffing something funny in the office of Illinois Rep. Luis Guti̩rrez.
According to reports, Guti̩rrez paid his former chief of staff, Doug Scofield, approximately $500,000 -- about $4100 per month -- in taxpayer funds over 10 years to train staff, review and draft news releases, and help publicize Guti̩rrez's activities.
In 2012 alone, Guti̩rrez paid Scofield $72,000 -- nearly five times more than other contractors received for congressional staff training. And just a year after Scofield's self-named lobbying firm gained the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a food bank, as a client, Guti̩rrez helped direct $539,500 in federal funds to the food depository's programs and services.
Scofield is also the co-author to Guti̩rrez's latest memoir: Still Dreaming: My Journey from the Barrio to Capitol Hill, which was released last fall.
All these connections raise some very serious questions. According to Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, Scofield was "simultaneously on the payroll of a member and representing clients in his district who [were] requesting and gaining earmarks from the congressman." That's unsavory at the very least while also a recognizable conflict of interest.
While House Administration Committee rules allow members to "contract with firms or individuals" these contracts can only occur for "general, non-legislative, and non-financial office services;" members are not "authorized to procure consultant services." The contract signed between Guti̩rrez and Scofield called for Scofield to provide "non-legislative message development" training in addition to his other services.
The Ethics Committee has extended its initial March 20 deadline for action for another 45 days while it completes the investigation referred to it in December by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).