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Rep. Alex Mooney spent thousands of campaign dollars on food and a stay at a West Virginia resort, according to a report from Roll Call based on findings from the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Mooney also failed to report more than $40,000 in campaign expenses on required filings, the publication, which covers Congress, reported.
Roll Call reported Wednesday that a six-member non-partisan board at the OCE recommended that the House Ethics Committee — made up of five Republican and five Democratic House members — review the matter further.
According to the OCE findings reviewed by Roll Call, Mooney told investigators that expenses made at Chick-fil-A were done so as a means to speak with constituents. He also spent campaign funds on a trip with his daughter to Smoke Hole Caverns Log Cabin & Resort, which is located outside of Mooney’s district.
House members are prohibited by law and House rules from spending campaign money for personal use.
While the OCE report has not yet been made public, those under investigation by the office would be given a copy of the report and the investigation’s findings, according to those familiar with the OCE’s investigative process. Investigations turned over to the House Ethics Committee will typically be released within 45 days.
A spokesperson for the OCE declined to comment on the matter.
Mark Harris, a spokesperson for Mooney’s campaign, disputed the reporting from Roll Call in a statement to West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
“Some of these allegations are demonstrably false and are legitimate expenses to local West Virginia businesses. The OCE report specifically rejected many of the partisan allegations, which demonstrated these were perfectly allowed expenses,” Harris said.
Harris said, prior to the OCE inquiry, Mooney “adopted multiple new procedures, amended past reports to ensure their accuracy and hired a company to ensure full legal compliance and accurate reporting.” He said Mooney is fully cooperating on the matter.
“The Congressman will clear up this issue and as always fight for the people of West Virginia and their conservative values,” he said.
Kedric Payne, an ethics expert at the Campaign Legal Center and a former investigator and deputy chief counsel at the OCE, told West Virginia Public Broadcasting that — based on Roll Call’s reporting — investigators are taking the alleged violations seriously.
“You have a red flag when the member failed to disclose expenditures on the FEC report and apparently used campaign funds for personal use,” Paynes said. “Those things together make it look as though there’s an intentional cover-up of a violation.”
Payne also said it is possible that the ethics inquiry may turn into a criminal investigation.
“Typically, what you see in this type of situation — when a report becomes public that shows personal use of campaign funds — the Department of Justice will get involved [and it will] move over to a criminal action,” Payne said.
While the OCE investigates a number of complaints brought by members of the public, Payne said this type of potential violation is often considered to be among the most egregious.
“There are many ethical issues that come up with members. But this personal use violation is one of the most serious because of the criminal implications,” Payne said.
West Virginia will lose a congressional seat following the 2022 election — potentially pitting two of the state’s current three Republican members against one another in a primary race that cycle.