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Ethics Committee extends review into Rep. Sanford Bishop’s campaign spending

The Georgia Democrat cosponsored legislation in 2010 that would have curtailed reports from the Office of Congressional Ethics

The Ethics Committee is examining a matter related to Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga.
The Ethics Committee is examining a matter related to Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House Ethics Committee announced Tuesday it is extending a review into a matter involving Georgia Democratic Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr..

The matter concerning Bishop, a 14-term lawmaker, was transmitted from the Office of Congressional Ethics, a nonpartisan, independent investigative arm of the House, on Feb. 10. OCE sends matters to the Ethics Committee if it finds substantial reason to believe a violation occurred. Unlike OCE, the Ethics panel can issue subpoenas and discipline members.

A spokesperson for Bishop said the OCE was looking into his campaign’s expenditures and that he is cooperating.

“The Office of Congressional Ethics notified Congressman Bishop that it was reviewing his campaign’s disbursement reports,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “The Congressman is cooperating fully in this matter in an open and transparent way. This includes conducting a thorough review of his campaign finance reports to identify all necessary corrective steps to resolve this matter in a timely fashion. The Congressman takes ethical issues very seriously and has always been committed to complying with all campaign finance regulations and standards of conduct.”

Tom Rust, a spokesperson for the Ethics Committee, had no comment.

In 2010, Bishop co-sponsored a bill that would have curtailed the effectiveness of the office, including public releases of its reports, but the proposal never made it to a floor vote.

After the bill was introduced by Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, an Ohio Democrat, Bishop’s spokesperson defended his support of curtailing OCE’s reports.

“Since its inception, the OCE has prematurely allowed release of reports and findings, resulting in members of Congress being tried in the court of public opinion and convicted by the media before allegations of misconduct were proven or found to be without merit,” Bishop’s spokesperson wrote in the Albany Herald, a local newspaper in Georgia.

“It is a fact that the mere commencement of an OCE investigation harms the reputation. To suggest otherwise is absurd. Where allegations are unfounded, they should not be publicized,” the spokesperson added.

Once the Ethics Committee receives a referral from OCE, it has 45 days before it must make OCE’s report public; however, the Ethics panel can vote to extend that period of review for another 45 days and thus, further delay the OCE report of a member’s alleged misconduct.

If the Ethics Committee decides to extend the review process, it must publicly announce that decision, which is the case with Bishop’s matter.

Since 2003, Bishop’s campaign committee has spent over $213,000 on gas including at Shell, BP, Chevron, Citgo and Exxon, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

In 2014 and 2015, Bishop spent $2,463 of campaign money on “dues” at Green Island Country Club. The club, located in Columbus, Ga., has a golf course, fitness center, pool and other amenities.

The FEC says dues to country clubs cannot be paid for by campaign funds.

“Campaign funds may not be used to pay for dues to country clubs, health clubs, recreational facilities or other nonpolitical organizations unless the payments are made in connection with a specific fundraising event that takes place on the organization’s premises. Campaign funds may be used for membership dues in an organization that may have political interests,” according to the FEC.

Experts in the ethics space see Bishop’s spending at the country club as an issue.

“It sounds like a misuse of campaign funds for personal use. He would probably claim that it was an expenditure for a campaign fundraising purpose, but that sounds suspiciously not to be the case. It really reeks of a personal benefit by Sanford,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for watchdog group Public Citizen. “I suspect it was just for his own entertainment and not directly, solidly linked to his campaign.”

Donald K. Sherman, deputy director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said it was “problematic whenever members of Congress are spending campaign money on personal extravagances like that.”

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