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Ethics panel directs Rep. McMorris Rodgers to pay back Treasury for misused funds

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., left, turns as she briefly enters the hearing room where the House Intelligence Committee was hearing testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
From staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON – The House Ethics Committee has reprimanded Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., for misusing taxpayer money and ordered her to reimburse more than $7,500 to the U.S. Treasury.

In a report that culminates a six-year investigation, the ethics panel said McMorris Rodgers misused official resources for campaign or other political purposes.

The investigation found McMorris Rodgers and her staff “frequently exhibited an indifference to the laws, rules and regulations relating to the use of official and unofficial resources.”

McMorris Rodgers, in her eighth term representing Eastern Washington, was the highest-ranking woman in the House Republican caucus from 2013 through January.

The report states that for at least five years, her offices were “governed by sloppy practices, including inconsistent policies and poor record-keeping,” that led to the misuse of taxpayer money.

In a letter to the committee, McMorris Rodgers said that while she disagrees with some the panel’s findings, “I appreciate its work and take responsibility for its ultimate conclusions.”

A follow-up statement from her office Thursday indicated that new policies have been put in place to address the concerns in record-keeping found by the House of Representatives’ Ethics Committee.

McMorris Rodgers said she and her staff cooperated with investigators for six years, producing more than 66,000 pages of documents and submitting to more than 30 interviews.

She blamed the investigation on a disgruntled former employee who complained about forced campaign activity. A former communications director told The Spokesman-Review in September 2014 he’d been contacted by the Office of Congressional Ethics in regard to the complaint, and that he was being retaliated against for that cooperation.

Thursday’s report from the Ethics Committee does not mention any actions taken by the congresswoman’s office toward any witness.

“While I do take the committee’s findings regarding improper activity that happened under my watch to heart, I am particularly satisfied that the committee found no evidence that I ever compelled my staff to assist with my campaign or other political efforts,” the congresswoman wrote in a letter to the congressional committee.

The 58-page report says much of the improper conduct occurred under her former chief of staff, but said that as a lawmaker, McMorris Rodgers “is ultimately responsible for the conduct of her staff, including her chief of staff.”

The findings concern payments made to Stan Shore, a consultant from Olympia who’s been involved in local Spokane politics in the past, most recently doing some early consulting work for Nadine Woodward’s mayoral campaign. They also detail payments made to a speech consultant between 2012 and 2015, identified in the report as Brett O’Donnell, who had ties to the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann.

O’Donnell, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to the Office of Congressional Ethics in 2015, could not interview with ethics investigators looking into the allegations against McMorris Rodgers until earlier this year due to an unrelated criminal investigation, according to the report.

The panel did not recommend any further penalty beyond the statement of rebuke and the order to repay the Treasury.

Staff writer Kip Hill and the Associated Press contributed to this report.