WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Ethics Committee said Monday it will not appoint a special panel to investigate allegations that Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois improperly hired a Chicago lobbyist to act as a de facto staff member for a decade.
The committee's top two leaders, Reps. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., said they are not formally dismissing Gutierrez's actions but will instead continue to review the matter under their own authority. In practical terms, the decision means it is unlikely that the 11-term lawmaker from Chicago will face charges or sanctions.
The independent Office of Congressional Ethics said in a report that there is substantial reason to believe that Gutierrez violated federal law and House rules in hiring lobbyist Doug Scofield to work side by side with his congressional staff on a range of issues while Scofield also was representing other clients. Scofield is a former Gutierrez chief of staff.
The report says Gutierrez paid Scofield more than $590,000 from 2003 to 2013 to serve as a consultant. Under House rules, Scofield was limited to providing training and other non-legislative assistance to Gutierrez and his staff.
Instead, the ethics office's report details that Scofield wrote speeches, reviewed and drafted news releases and worked on legislation. One staff member told the ethics office that whenever there was a crisis, Gutierrez directed staffers to "call Doug," referring to Scofield. Another staffer said that when "trouble" hit, Scofield served as a key resource.
The report said that at least two of Scofield's clients, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Chicago Botanical Garden, sought federal earmarks while Scofield served as a consultant. Gutierrez signed a letter supporting $2 million for the food depository and a separate letter seeking $620,000 for the botanical garden.
Gutierrez, 60, told the ethics office that Scofield never lobbied him to act on behalf of anyone. Neither Scofield nor his successor as chief of staff, Jennice Fuentes, agreed to be interviewed by the ethics office.
A spokesman for Gutierrez said Monday that the congressman's office submitted Scofield's contract for review by the House Administration Committee and the House finance office before Scofield performed any work.
The congressman's office "resubmitted the contract to the House at the beginning of each new Congress" and disclosed the payments in quarterly reports that were made public by the House, spokesman Douglas Rivlin said.