Matt Gaetz hit with multiple complaints over lease arrangement scandal

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Common Cause is pushing the Justice Department and House Ethics Committee to probe the Florida Republican's lease arrangement with a donor.

A government watchdog group on Wednesday announced it had filed multiple complaints against Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, demanding an investigation into a lease agreement for congressional office space.

Politico reported on Friday that Gaetz rented office space in Florida for below market value from Collier Merrill — a Florida-based developer who Politico reported is a longtime friend and donor to Gaetz's campaign.

Gaetz admitted in a tweet that he both did not pay fair market value for the office space in his Pensacola-based district, and told Politico through a spokesperson that he felt he didn't need to disclose his relationship with Merrill.

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However, the rental agreement violates House rules, which state that lawmakers must rent office space "at fair market value as the result of a bona fide, arms-length, marketplace transaction."

"The Lessor and Lessee certify that the parties are not relatives nor have had, or continue to have, a professional or legal relationship (except as a landlord and tenant)," House rules state.

Common Cause — a watchdog group that seeks to "rebuild trust in our government" — filed complaints with the Justice Department, the House Committee on House Administration, and the Office of Congressional Ethics.

"The complaints urge an investigation into whether both men violated the criminal law prohibition on concealment of material facts in filings or statements to the federal government, and whether Rep. Gaetz is violating House gift rules by paying less than market value for his office rent," Common Cause said in a statement linking to the complaints.

In the series of tweets on Friday right before Politico published its story, Gaetz baselessly accused Politico of being "shills" for Sen. Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican currently in hot water over selling off as much as $1.7 million in stock before the market collapsed over coronavirus fears. Gaetz criticized Burr for the stock sell-off.

Gaetz went on to claim he was simply helping save taxpayer money.

Common Cause says the situation deserves scrutiny and that Gaetz should be held accountable.

"Floridians expect and deserve elected officials who obey the laws on the books, including those laws they may find inconvenient," Anjenys Gonzalez-Eilert, the executive director of Common Cause Florida, said in a statement.

"This lease arrangement seems to represent exactly the type of relationship House rules were written to prevent and why Members of Congress and their landlords are required disclose any relationship beyond that of landlord and tenant."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.