Mooney ethics inquiry probes alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars, tampering with investigation
Staffers on the campaign and in Mooney’s official office were asked to complete personal tasks, sources familiar with the investigation said
Congressional investigators have probed whether Rep. Alex X. Mooney misused taxpayer money by having staff perform personal errands and tried to determine whether he tampered with a previous ethics inquiry into his campaign spending, according to documents obtained by CQ Roll Call.
Those questions — and others — were contained in letters sent from the Office of Congressional Ethics in August and September 2021 asking people in the West Virginia Republican’s orbit for any information that could be relevant to a second investigation the office undertook into Mooney’s conduct.
“Alex Mooney continues to cooperate fully with the investigation and we look forward to its resolution,” Ryan Kelly, a spokesperson for Mooney, said in a statement.
The OCE sent the results of its first investigation into Mooney to the House Ethics Committee in July 2021. That OCE report detailed findings that Mooney used campaign funds for family vacations and fast food and that he failed to properly report over $40,000 in spending. The OCE is a fact-finding, independent, nonpartisan entity and is not authorized to discipline members or issue subpoenas. The ethics process requires the OCE to send its findings to the Ethics Committee, a 10-member panel of lawmakers with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.
The OCE subsequently opened a second, broader inquiry into Mooney. The OCE completed that report and sent it to the House Ethics panel in December.
The Ethics Committee, a panel that operates slowly and in secrecy, is investigating both matters. It can discipline members and subpoena records and testimony from witnesses.
Details on the second OCE inquiry into Mooney, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, have been scant. The obtained documents — sent from the OCE to those who were believed to have information relevant to the investigation — provide new insight into the scope of it.
OCE Staff Director Omar Ashmawy inquired in the letters about any information “related to potential misuse of congressional or campaign funds or resources by Rep. Mooney or his campaign,” including “misuse of congressional staff time for personal errands, campaign work, or other unofficial purposes.”
The office asked about materials related to Mooney’s requests for mileage reimbursements and policies on such reimbursements. It also asked for information on the scheduling of trips for the lawmaker “in which he was accompanied by members of his family, or for which campaign or political work was not the primary purpose.”
Investigators requested “all documents and communications related to the withholding, editing, or tampering with any documents or information by Rep. Mooney, his counsel, or his staff during an investigation by the OCE.” That ask included editing or withholding information from calendar entries in response to OCE inquiries, and electronic notifications of changes made to Mooney’s calendar and communications regarding such notifications or changes to Mooney’s calendar.
Individuals have been prosecuted for lying to the OCE. David Bowser, who served as chief of staff for former Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., was convicted for lying to office investigators.
Staffers on the campaign and in Mooney’s official office were asked to complete personal tasks, sources familiar with the investigation said.
Grace Mooney, who is married to the congressman, is a medical doctor. An official staffer was asked to contact an agency in West Virginia to inquire how she could get her medical license in the state; and on a separate occasion an official employee was asked to reach out to a mine museum in Beckley, W.Va., to assist with a school project for one of the Mooney children, according to a source familiar with the inquiry.
Campaign employees were tasked with driving the Mooney children places for nonpolitical assignments and running errands, the sources said.
“And this was common practice for years for every campaign worker he has. They become personal chauffeurs,” a source said.
Another source with knowledge of the investigation said: “Rep. Mooney sees no difference between official, campaign and personal tasks, and routinely requires staff to perform all three regularly."
Staffers in the official office are paid out of the Members’ Representational Allowance, which is taxpayer money. As such, the time of those employees is an official resource and directing them to perform personal errands is prohibited by federal law.
Members are also prohibited from using campaign resources, such as staff time and campaign funds, for personal pursuits.
Kedric Payne, a vice president of the Campaign Legal Center and an ethics expert who previously worked as deputy chief counsel at the OCE, said it is rare for a member to be investigated by the OCE twice in one year.
“It’s very rare to see the OCE have two investigations into one member in one year,” Payne said. “That suggests, to me, that the initial investigation opened up a significant amount of questions on additional violations.”
Payne said the inquiry appears to examine “frequent violations” of “using official resources improperly.”
Since June 2021, Mooney’s campaign fund, Mooney for Congress 2022, has spent $167,939 on legal services to two law firms: Wiley Rein and Fox Rothschild, Federal Election Commission records show. Mooney has opened a legal expense fund to help pay costs associated with the investigations.
He was a Maryland state senator and chairman of the Maryland Republican Party before he moved to West Virginia to run for Congress. Michael Hough, Mooney’s chief of staff, is currently a state senator in Maryland.
Mooney faces a May 10 primary matchup with Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., in the redrawn 2nd District, which pits the two incumbents against each other. McKinley, 75, has the endorsement of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, while Mooney, 50, was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
Tom Rust, the staff director and spokesperson for the House Ethics Committee, declined comment.
William Beaman, a spokesperson for the OCE, declined comment.