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House Ethics closes Huizenga probe, finds no need for sanctions

Trips to Disney World, resorts were ‘clearly campaign-related,’ report says

The House Ethics Committee has closed its inquiry into campaign spending by Michigan Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga.
The House Ethics Committee has closed its inquiry into campaign spending by Michigan Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Ethics Committee found that Rep. Bill Huizenga violated House rules around campaign finance recordkeeping but elected to close an inquiry into the Republican, citing a need for better guidance for all lawmakers, according to a report released Wednesday.

Poor recordkeeping by Huizenga’s campaign did constitute a breach of the House’s conduct code, the report states. But the committee did not recommend any reprimand for Huizenga, who has represented Michigan’s 4th District since 2011. 

Questionable campaign expenses that “fell within unclear areas” of federal regulations were ultimately found to have an “established campaign purpose,” according to the report.

The committee vowed to “refresh its guidance to the House community on these issues based on lessons learned from this and other matters.”

The finding comes years after Huizenga’s use of campaign funds first came under review in 2018, when Michigan Democrats filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. They alleged that Huizenga used campaign funds for expensive dinners and vacations, including trips to Disney World, golf resorts and luxury hotels. The FEC declined to go forward with the complaint, but the Office of Congressional Ethics pursued the allegations and voted in 2019 to refer the matter to House Ethics.

Huizenga had denied any wrongdoing and previously blasted the complaint as the work of “Nancy Pelosi’s foot soldiers.” 

“We are glad to have this five-year-old partisan attack finally put to rest,” Brian Patrick, Huizenga’s communications director, said in an emailed statement. “The report notes our consistent cooperation, takes no action against our office, and recommends better and updated guidance for all Members, which we support. We want to thank the committee for a thorough investigation and successful resolution of this matter.”

According to the House Ethics report, Huizenga used campaign funds to cover travel expenses for his family and the family of his staff. The use of such funds for vacations is prohibited, but House Ethics found “the primary purpose of each trip was clearly campaign-related.”

“Representative Huizenga believed these expenses to be legitimate uses of campaign funds because the campaign benefited from the general attendance of the staffers and their families over the course of the trips, as well as his own family’s participation in the fundraising weekend,” the House Ethics report states.

But on other counts, the committee did find fault. 

The 2019 OCE report found Huizenga’s campaign did not have clear policies about how funds should be spent or reimbursed. House Ethics chalked up the violations to a “lack of knowledge or confusion about the applicable requirements,” adding that it is “apparent to the Committee that the House community would benefit from updated guidance on personal use of campaign funds and related recordkeeping expectations.” 

Barely mentioned in the House Ethics report is a separate allegation that Huizenga accepted campaign contributions from his congressional staffers. 

In a footnote on Page 9 of the 12-page report, the Ethics Committee wrote that Huizenga’s campaign did improperly accept contributions from congressional staffers but was “not aware at the time that such outlays, even when reimbursed, are impermissible contributions.” The campaign has reimbursed those staffers, according to the House Ethics Committee.

Huizenga, in a 2019 letter to the committee, said his campaign had worked with a compliance professional and counsel to ward off any future violations.

“While I believe that these minor mistakes cited by the OCE would be uncovered in any congressional campaign that is the subject of a months’ long inquiry involving at least four OCE staffers, cross-country interviews, and the production of hundreds of emails and other documents, I take them very seriously and am committed to ensuring they do not occur again in the future,” Huizenga wrote.

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