FEC Deadlocks on Chaffetz Personal-Use Case

By Kenneth P. Doyle

The Federal Election Commission deadlocked on whether to pursue enforcement action against Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) for using campaign money to pay for hotel stays in Washington.

Dismissal of an FEC enforcement complaint against Chaffetz filed by a 2016 primary-election opponent, Chia-Chi Teng, was reported Dec. 27 by The Salt Lake Tribune. The FEC hasn’t yet released documents in the matter, which was considered secretly under the commission’s confidentiality rules.

A Chaffetz spokesperson couldn’t be reached for comment. The lawmaker told the Salt Lake City newspaper that the allegations of illegal personal use of campaign funds were false. He said that campaign funds were used to pay for hotels when his wife came to Washington for campaign-related events.

Chaffetz’s family lives in Utah, and he reportedly sleeps in his congressional office when he’s in Washington for legislative duties.

The four-term House member is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Cautioned on Vehicle Use

The Salt Lake Tribune report said the FEC voted to find “no reason to believe” some personal-use allegations against Chaffetz, while charges involving personal use of vehicles purchased by the campaign were dismissed with a cautionary letter warning against improper use of campaign funds.

Chaffetz’s campaign committee raised nearly $1.4 million in the 2016 election cycle and spent nearly $1.2 million, according to disclosure reports filed with the FEC. He defeated Teng in a Republican primary in June, garnering 78 percent of the vote. He then beat Democratic challenger Stephen Tryon in November with 73 percent of the vote.

Teng provided an analysis of Chaffetz’s disclosure reports as part of his FEC complaint and criticism of Chaffetz during the primary campaign. The analysis indicated that Chaffetz’s campaign committee and leadership political action committee have paid a total of more than $470,000 in reimbursements to Chaffetz and his wife over a period of almost 10 years.

Recent Personal-Use Cases

While the FEC hasn’t released the commissioners’ vote on the Chaffetz matter, the commission has deadlocked along party lines in many previous enforcement cases. In prior instances, the FEC’s three Republican commissioners usually have voted to dismiss a matter, while the three commissioners holding Democratic seats have voted to pursue enforcement action.

In several recent cases involving illegal personal use of campaign money, however, the FEC commissioners were able to muster a unanimous vote to pursue enforcement action. Over the past year, three cases were resolved in favor of the FEC after the agency filed civil enforcement lawsuits in federal court.

One long-running case involved use of campaign money to pay the legal costs of former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) after he became embroiled in a sex scandal nearly a decade ago. The other cases involved use of campaign money for rent and other personal expenses by former Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell of Delaware and former Republican House candidate Edward Lynch of Florida.

The House Ethics Committee also recently announced probes involving alleged personal use of campaign money by two current House members, Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.). Both cases were investigated and referred to the Ethics Committee by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

The Hunter case is believed to stem from a complaint by the liberal watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which said Hunter’s FEC disclosure reports revealed tens of thousands of dollars of payments for apparent personal expenses, including video games, school tuition and family vacations.

In Stutzman’s case, the OCE found the lawmaker may have violated ethics rules and campaign laws by using campaign money for a family trip to California.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.