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Tuesday, November 29, 2016 10:13 pm

Ethics Committee still reviewing Stutzman case

Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

The U.S. House Ethics Committee said Tuesday it will review further a complaint brought against Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, over his alleged personal use of campaign funds.

The committee said in a news release that it needs "to gather additional information necessary to complete its review" of the case. It also said it will have no further comment until the review if finished.

With the House tentatively scheduled to adjourn for the year on Dec. 9 and Stutzman leaving office on Jan. 2, the Ethics Committee faces a time crunch for its review and any penalties or reprovals that might result if Stutzman would be found to have violated House rules. The committee cannot review former House members.

The panel did release the report and findings of the Office of Congressional Ethics, which had sought the review in August. The OCE concluded in its report that "there is substantial reason to believe that campaign funds were used to pay for a personal family trip to California" in possible violation of federal law and House rules.
 
The release of the OCE report was the first time that the Ethics Committee has specified the reason it was reviewing Stutzman.
 
"The OCE report released today is flawed and completely wrong," Stutzman said in a statement. "As our submission to House Ethics shows, OCE interjected itself into this process by taking news articles attacking me in my Senate campaign, then spending substantial taxpayer money deciding how many fundraising meetings on a fundraising trip are 'enough' to suit the OCE staff. This is truly a bizarre situation.
 
"The OCE report in my case is totally flawed and inappropriate and fails to follow FEC regulations applicable to campaign travel," he said, adding that the report "is demonstrably absurd."
 
The California trip in question took place in August 2015 when Stutzman was running for a U.S. Senate seat. According to the OCE report, Stutzman attended three campaign meetings over a two-day period in Los Angeles. But over the next three-and-a-half days, he, his wife and their two sons "participated in activities of a personal nature, including tours of Capitol Records, the Reagan Library, and Reagan Ranch," the report stated.
 
The Reagan Library and Ranch are part of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs in Simi Valley, California.
 
The report noted that Stutzman repaid his campaign $1,518 for the air-travel expenses of his wife and children after media inquires about the trip.
 
The Associated Press first reported on April 20 that Stutzman?s Senate campaign had paid for travel expenses for what his wife wrote on social media was a family vacation to California. The OCE report said it first received a written request for a review of the matter on April 22.
 
The Ethics Committee also on Tuesday released Stutzman's Sept. 29 response to the OCE. In it, his lawyer called the report "erroneous" and urged the committee to dismiss the complaint.
 
"Of the six days of travel, not even one day was a Stutzman family only day. There was something related to the Senate campaign every day of the trip. Every day," wrote Stutzman attorney Cleta Mitchell, a partner in the Washington law firm Foley and Lardner.
 
Mitchell also wrote, "Simply because Rep. Stutzman chose to keep his family with him on the west cost fundraising trip and because he wanted to accommodate an important media figure in his state by spending time with Indiana voters during the California trip does not convert this trip to a 'vacation' or a 'personal' use of campaign funds."
 
Stutzman, his wife, Christy, and his chief of staff, John Hammond, had said his trip overlapped a Southern California tour for Indiana residents organized by Pat Miller, a commentator for Fort Wayne radio station WOWO.
 
Stutzman, a congressman since 2011, lost the Republican nomination for an open Senate seat to Rep. Todd Young, R-9th. Young defeated Democrat Evan Bayh, a former senator and former governor, in the Nov. 8 general election to replace retiring Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.