Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has denied allegations by a former staffer that she improperly mixed campaign and official funds in her quest to head the House Republican Conference last year.
The House Ethics Committee said on Thursday that it was weighing an investigation into accusations by a staffer whom the Washington state Republican reportedly fired after becoming conference chairwoman that she had improperly comingled the funds, Politico reports.
The Office of Congressional Ethics recommended the case for full investigation to the House panel, which will be reviewed until March 23. The committee then must decide to appoint a special investigative subcommittee or drop the case and release the OCE’s report, according to Politico.
McMorris Rodgers, 44, who is in her fifth term, delivered the GOP response
to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address last week. Her conference post places her at No. 4 in the House GOP leadership and makes McMorris Rodgers the highest-ranking female Republican in the lower chamber.
She beat out Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, for the position.
"As has become an unfortunate rite of passage for many members of Congress, the OCE regularly refers matters to the House Ethics Committee for further review," Elliot Berke, McMorris Rodgers’s attorney, said in a statement to Newsmax. "Such reviews are virtually automatic, and as the committee always points out, does not indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee."
“The congresswoman and her office cooperated fully with the OCE during its inquiry and have already begun assisting the committee with its review," added Berke, who is with the Washington law firm of McGuireWoods. "We are confident that the committee will ultimately find that the allegations were baseless and that her office always followed all laws, rules and standards of conduct."
Sources close to McMorris Rodgers told Politico that the OCE's review began after the former aide contended that she had improperly mixed the campaign and official dollars.
"The complaint to the OCE was made by a former disgruntled employee, Todd Winer, who was terminated from the office with cause after [McMorris Rodgers] became Conference chair, and she decided not to choose him for the communications director position at conference,” one source told Politico.
House rules allow members to use campaign money to pay the costs of a leadership race — and they also may use official staff, according to Politico. However, official and campaign funds cannot be used together in such races.
“We are confident that every activity was compliant with all federal laws, House rules, and standards of conduct,” Nate Hodson, McMorris Rodgers’ communications director, told Newsmax in a statement. “We are fully cooperating and look forward to seeing this matter dismissed.”
The OCE is an outside organization that can refer cases to the House Ethics Committee. The subject of any such potential investigation is not disclosed.
The ethics committee chairman, Rep. Michael Conaway of Texas, and its ranking Democrat, Rep. Linda Sanchez of California, said they had received a referral from the ethics office about McMorris Rodgers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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