The US House Committee on Ethics on Monday said it has received findings of a confidential investigation into the campaign spending of US Representative Lori Trahan, and will decide soon whether to investigate further.
It is the first time Congress has acknowledged investigating allegations of improper campaign donations to Trahan during her upset election to Congress in 2018.
Staffers at the Office of Congressional Ethics, an agency that reviews complaints brought against House members, completed their report and turned it over to the Ethics Committee in September.
In a press release, House Ethics Committee Chairman Theodore Deutch of Florida and ranking member Kenny Marchant of Texas said “the mere fact of a referral . . . does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee.” The committee said it will announce “its course of action by December 17.”
The Ethics Committee can decide to open its own investigation, or take no further action. It did not disclose any of the investigators’ findings.
Under House rules, Trahan would have been notified of the ongoing investigation.
The announcement came days after Trahan put out a long statement seeking to answer lingering questions about the source of a last-minute cash infusion into the 2018 campaign that she won by just 145 votes.
Last week she said that $300,000 she loaned her campaign came from her husband’s income that he deposited in an account they shared.
She had been dogged by questions about the source of the loans, insisting the money was her own, not her husband’s. Under federal election laws, only the candidate can donate unlimited funds to their campaign. Everyone else, including the candidate’s spouse, is entitled to donate only up to the maximum allowed by law, which at the time was $2,700 for a primary election and $2,700 for a general.
Trahan said last week she had a prenuptial agreement with her husband that entitled each of them to the other’s assets and said she viewed her husband’s money as her own.
After a Globe story in March questioning the sources of her funds, the Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust filed a complaint, alleging Trahan failed to give voters a “full and accurate accounting” of her finances during the campaign. The Washington, D.C.-based group said that made it impossible to determine whether she had potential conflicts of interest.
Two other complaints about Trahan are pending before the Federal Election Commission.
“Representative Trahan had the right to manage and dispose of her husband David’s income under an agreement they entered into before they were married,” said spokesman Mark McDevitt, who referred to the Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust as “a right-wing group.”
“When the FEC completes its review, we are confident it will find in Congressman Trahan’s favor,” he wrote.
Brett Kappel, a Washington lawyer and election law expert, said last week’s statement from Trahan, in which she said she believed each spouse “was free to take as much as they wished from the joint account” could mean the difference between her eventually being hit with a civil, not a criminal, violation.
“Criminal violations have to be proven to be knowing and willful — the person had to know that what they doing was wrong,” he said. “If she was merely mistaken about the use of money in a joint account, then it’s only a civil violation punishable by a fine from the FEC.”
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.