Ethics committee reviewing complaints about Tlaib, Huizenga campaign spending

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The House Ethics Committee revealed Monday that it’s reviewing allegations against two Michigan lawmakers, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Bill Huizenga, to decide whether to open investigations into their conduct.

The offices of both Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat, and Huizenga, a Zeeland Republican, indicated they believe the complaints to be related to campaign spending and not the members' official congressional duties.

The Ethics Committee in a Monday statement said it would extend into November the time it spends reviewing findings about each lawmaker submitted to the panel Aug. 16 by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit

Committee leaders stressed that while they are required to disclose the extension, doing so "does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee." 

However, the Office of Congressional Ethics typically sends an investigation to the Ethics Committee when it determines there's a substantial reason to believe a violation might have occurred. 

A spokesman for the Ethics Committee declined to comment. 

"Rep. Tlaib has cooperated completely with the committee to resolve the referral, which involves the same claims over her publicly disclosed salary during the campaign that conservative groups pressed back in March," Tlaib spokesman Denzel McCampbell said.

"Rep. Tlaib fully complied with the law and acted in good faith at all times.”

McCampbell was referring to complaints during Tlaib's 2018 run for Congress that she paid herself a $4,000-a-month salary from campaign funds

At the time, her campaign defended the expense as permissible under Federal Election Commission guidelines and that she was entitled to take more than the $4,000 a month she elected to pay herself during the campaign.

Under federal law, candidates may pay themselves a salary within limits, as long as they are not an incumbent federal officeholder and the salary paid comes from the candidate's principal campaign committee.

Tlaib, 43, succeeded longtime U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. in January. 

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, at right, speaks to press in Grand Rapids last year.

Huizenga's office said he has "cooperated fully" in the process and would continue to do so.

"This matter is the continuation of a partisan and politically motivated complaint filed by the Michigan Democratic Party prior to the 2018 election that has already been resolved by the Federal Election Commission,” spokesman Brian Patrick said. 

The FEC complaint filed against Huizenga and his campaign last year alleged that he had misused his campaign account for personal use and had failed to properly itemize reimbursements for his family members. His campaign denied the claims.

The FEC's in-house counsel investigated and recommended that the commission dismiss the allegations, finding no "reasonable inference" that the campaign converted funds to personal use. 

The FEC counsel also recommended the commissioners use their discretion to dismiss the claims regarding itemizing reimbursements, noting the campaign committee had indicated a willingness to amend its reports as needed. 

The FEC closed the case in June after splitting 2-2 on whether Huizenga or his campaign had violated campaign finance law.

Huizenga, 50, is serving his fifth term, representing Michigan's 2nd District since 2011.