Common Cause v. Rep. Matt Gaetz (Office Lease)
On April 22, 2020, Common Cause filed complaints with the Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.S. House Committee on House Administration, and the Office of Congressional Ethics against Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and his landlord and donor Collier Merrill for their failure to disclose their longstanding relationship while seeking the required congressional approval of an office lease. The complaints urge an investigation into whether both men violated the criminal law prohibition on concealment of material facts in filings or statements to the federal government, and whether Rep. Gaetz is violating House gift rules by paying less than market value for his office rent.
Politico reported on April 17 that both Rep. Gaetz and Mr. Merrill signed a form filed with the Committee on House Administration falsely certifying that they did not have a relationship and further certifying that the lease was negotiated in an arms-length transaction for fair market value. The reporters then documented a relationship extending back decades and included legal representation, political contributions, and policy advice. Politico went on to report that both men initially admitted to reporters that the lease is for below market value but Rep. Gaetz later recharacterized the lease as “at or below market value.” The rules of the U.S. of Representatives prohibit such arrangements.
“Floridians expect and deserve elected officials who obey the laws on the books, including those laws they may find inconvenient,” said Anjenys Gonzalez-Eilert, executive director of Common Cause Florida. “This lease arrangement seems to represent exactly the type of relationship House rules were written to prevent and why Members of Congress and their landlords are required disclose any relationship beyond that of landlord and tenant.”
“In our democracy no one is above the law, least of all Members of Congress who, like Rep. Gaetz, are charged with writing our nation’s laws,” said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause vice president for policy and litigation. “The circumstances around the lease and the failure to disclose the longstanding relationship between Rep. Gaetz and Collier Merrill that were outlined in the reporting by Politico are deeply troubling and warrant a full investigation by the Justice Department and Congress.”
Common Cause requested a DOJ investigation of potential violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, which prohibits anyone in any matter within the jurisdiction of the federal legislative branch of government from knowingly and willfully falsifying, concealing or covering up any material fact like concealing the longstanding relationship between Rep. Gaetz and his landlord Mr. Collier. Common Cause further requested investigation of whether Rep. Gaetz and his landlord may have conspired or attempted to conspire to commit an offense against, or to defraud, the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 1349. Finally, Common Cause requested that the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Rep. Gaetz is violating House gift rules through receipt of below-market-value rent.