A little over a year ago, The SunLight Foundation reported: “The Department of Justice opened a new investigation into the possible misuse of congressional staff by two offices. Reps. Jane Harman and Neil Abercrombie were accused of using congressional staff to do campaign work by a former staffer who recently plead guilty to fraud charges. It is a violation of House rules for congressional staff to do campaign work unless it is on their own time. This may also violate federal law statutes regarding the solicitation of political contributions from employees.”
“The issue surfaced anew Friday, when U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema sentenced [Laura I.] Flores to six months in prison for embezzling $169,000 from congressional accounts controlled by Abercrombie and Harman.
The two have been accused by a disgruntled former employee of forcing congressional staff to perform campaign duties and run personal errands on official time, allegations that both lawmakers vigorously denied yesterday.
The “Abercrombie for Congress” campaign paid for everything from $67,000 in catering for a fundraiser to $39,000 for office rent and $4,278 for Christmas cards to be printed and mailed. Aside from the consultants, however, there are no records of who staffed the campaign office or who sent out the holiday cards.
Both employed Laura I. Flores, who has pleaded guilty to fraud, in their congressional offices during that period. She is cooperating with a government inquiry into the use of legislative resources that has raised questions about whether congressional staff members were paid in part for helping with campaigns, according to a source familiar with the case and court documents.
Citing the Flores case, a watchdog group yesterday called on the House ethics committee to investigate whether lawmakers routinely flout rules that bar legislative employees from performing campaign work on official time.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington urged the House ethics panel to launch its own probe of a problem it warned may be ‘pervasive.’ CREW also asked congressional leaders to establish a process for staff members to complain about abuses without fear of retaliation.
“American taxpayers have a right to assume that their money is being spent on the people’s business and not on campaign activities or personal matters,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW.
Using congressional staff members on official time to help campaign violates ethics rules. The practice also may violate laws that prohibit soliciting political contributions from employees, ethics experts said.
Brinkema reduced Flores’s prison term in part because she is cooperating with an early-stage inquiry by the Justice Department’s public integrity section into misuse of resources, according to a source familiar with the case.”
Opened in 2008, there is no indication that this case was resolved prior to Abercrombie’s resignation from Congress.
While there is little question, with staffers embezzling money, that Abercrombie has no ability to administrate, even a small office; there remains an open question as to Neil’s ability to run campaign activities without cockroaching taxpayers’ money.