8 House Republicans caught in ethics scandals are campaigning for reelection

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Republican incumbents in the House have been investigated for allegedly lying to the FBI, using campaign funds to pay for vacations, bullying staff, and sex trafficking.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) announced this week that he is seeking a 10th term representing Nebraska's 1st Congressional District, even though he is under federal indictment on charges of lying to the FBI. Despite GOP vows to "drain the swamp" and implement "zero tolerance" ethical standards, a growing number of Republican incumbents are embroiled in scandals and ongoing investigations.

In his kickoff video, Fortenberry says vaguely that "in spite of the difficulties of this year, we've been able to achieve some major accomplishments," among which he includes the recent enactment of H.R. 3537, the Accelerating Access to Critical Therapies for ALS Act, of which he was one of 99 original co-sponsors.

The "difficulties" Fortenberry mentions might include being indicted in October on federal charges of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and "scheming to falsify and conceal material facts" in an attempt to cover up illegally accepting a $30,000 campaign contribution from a billionaire foreign national.

Fortenberry denied any wrongdoing, and his wife sought to raise money for his legal defense by falsely arguing that the charges were over "fake crimes" and politically motivated — even though the federal investigation began during then-President Donald Trump's tenure.

At least seven other incumbent Republicans have also recently been in ethical hot water.

Last March, Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson accused a Trump-appointed Defense Department inspector general of a "political hit job" after he released a report alleging misconduct during Jackson's tenure as director of the White House Medical Unit and physician to Trump.

The report charged that Jackson repeatedly drank alcohol on the job and was abusive to his staff.

"We concluded that [Rear Admiral] Jackson's overall course of conduct toward subordinates disparaged, belittled, bullied, and humiliated them, and fostered a negative work environment by failing to treat subordinates with dignity and respect," it noted.

Jackson denied the charges.

That same month, the New York Times reported that Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz was facing a federal investigation into accusations that he had a sexual relationship with an underage girl and paid her travel expenses, a possible violation of sex trafficking laws. He denied wrongdoing and has falsely claimed to have been "exonerated" — but the Times reported this week that a federal grand jury is still hearing testimony in the matter.

The House Ethics Committee said last April that it is also investigating Gaetz's behavior and allegations of illicit drug use.

In a March 2021 press release, the Ethics Committee said it would investigate Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo after the independent Office of Congressional Ethics found he misused his official House office allowance and campaign funds for personal expenses. Palazzo allegedly used donations to his reelection committee to pay for renovations on a riverfront home he rented from himself as his campaign headquarters.

He denied wrongdoing and then reportedly spent more than $61,000 in campaign funds to fight the allegations.

The Ethics panel also announced last October that it had opened an investigation into West Virginia Rep. Alex Mooney's conduct. Months earlier, the Office of Congressional Ethics alleged Mooney failed to properly disclose $40,000 in campaign spending and used thousands of dollars in campaign donations to pay for his personal food and vacations. A Mooney spokesperson told CQ Roll Call at the time that he was "cooperating fully with the inquiry."

Minnesota Rep. Jim Hagedorn has also been the subject of an ongoing Ethics Committee investigation of allegations of that he improperly used taxpayer funds to pay a vendor owned by a member of his staff. His office denied that his spending violated any rules.

In the last Congress, Arizona Rep. David Schweikert admitted 11 ethics violations, including misuse of office funds, and paid a $50,000 fine.

The Ethics panel also reprimanded Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers over improper use of official resources and made her reimburse nearly $7,600 to the U.S. Treasury.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.