This is an odd story. It involves an unnamed member of the House and allegations of misuse of government funds.
On Monday a tweet caught my attention about a grand jury subpoena served by DOJ to the office of William P. McFarland, the House Sergeant-at-Arms. That’s not a message we hear every day. The House Reading Clerk Susan Cole read a message that formally notified the House chamber of the subpoena.
“This is to notify you formally pursuant to rule 8 of the rules of the House of Representatives that the office of the sergeant at arms for the House of Representatives has been served with a grand jury subpoena for documents issued by the U.S. Department of Justice”
“This is to notify you formally pursuant to rule 8 of the rules of the House of Representatives that the office of the sergeant at arms for the House of Representatives has been served with a grand jury subpoena for documents issued by the U.S. Department of Justice” pic.twitter.com/Qct7SsGuRi
— Acyn (@Acyn) January 29, 2024
There is not much information available right now, which adds to the secrecy surrounding the grand jury subpoena. One tidbit that has been reported is that the investigation is of a House Democrat. DOJ is investigating a misuse of funding meant for personal security.
🚨BREAKING NEWS — @TheJusticeDept is investigating a House Democrat for allegedly misusing government money meant for personal security.
This was the subpoena read out on the House floor today.
MUCH MORE in @PunchbowlNews PM
(Punchbowl News text alert out to subscribers…
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) January 29, 2024
Allegedly, the government funding in question is the members’ representational allowance. The unnamed Democrat is accused of abusing the members’ representational allowance.
The Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) is set up to cover costs that help a Congressional office serve its constituents. It covers the cost of staff salaries, office space at home, office supplies, and other expenses. The MRA is a budget for the office. There is a formula used to determine the size of the budget.
The public rightly expects Members to use their MRAs responsibly, and Congress benefits from the public holding it accountable for its stewardship. So the House Chief Administrative Officer makes Members’ spending available for the public to examine. Spending records are published as the Statement of Disbursements of the House in both print and digital, searchable formats. These records are published quarterly and may be downloaded from the House of Representatives website as PDFs or CSV files. The records for each Member include who was paid, the amount paid, and a brief description of good or service that was provided.
The amount of money in an MRA varies from Member to Member, and a set formula determines its exact size. The formula takes into account staff salaries, general office expenses, travel and office space. The amount for staff and general office expenses are the same for each office. The number of residential addresses within a district, its distance from Washington, and the price to rent office space in the district are variables that determine the size of the MRA. If a district is far from DC, has many inhabitants or has expensive real estate, there will be a larger budget than a rural district close to Washington. Although the MRA is calculated on certain assumptions about how Members will use their budgets—X dollars for staff salaries, Y dollars for travel, etc.—they have broad discretion in actually setting their spending priorities. For instance, the 2018 MRA formula assumes $944,671 for staff salaries, but 265 Members (more than half the House) spent more than this.
In this case, allegedly the money set aside for personal security costs was misused.
This story is playing out slowly and as I write this, the Democrat has not been identified. This story should be reported despite the secrecy surrounding it right now because it involves a member of the House and taxpayer money. Taxpayers are entitled to transparency.
The last time allegations of improper use of funds meant for security were in the news, it involved a member of The Squad, Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO). She paid her boyfriend for private security and then continued to pay him after their marriage.
In January 2022 when he was hired by Bush’s campaign, Merritts did not possess a private security license necessary to hold a private security job in St. Louis, where the entirety of Bush’s congressional district is housed. He did not receive his license until February 2023, the month the couple wed.
Private security payments from Bush’s campaign to Merritts total tens of thousands of dollars.
Bush has spent well over half a million dollars out of her campaign funds for private security. However, those payments came from Bush’s campaign account, not taxpayer funds.
Another member of The Squad, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) allegedly paid her then-boyfriend’s consulting firm out of money in her PAC.
As I said, the member’s identity has not yet been disclosed. This is a story that deserves to be monitored. Playing fast and loose with a congressional office’s budget to enrich someone close to the politician isn’t being good stewards of taxpayer money. This story must have risen to an obvious violation of policy for the DOJ to move forward with a grand jury subpoena.
*** And, just like that, I see a tweet that the person under investigation is, indeed, Rep. Cori Bush. This story was without many details when I became interested in it last night. I hesitated to write on it until more details became available. Then I went ahead this morning so that the story would be out there for our readers. Cori Bush came to mind since she’s been in hot water over spending violations before this story came out.
Punchbowl, the outlet that broke the story, is now reporting that six sources have confirmed it’s Bush who is under investigation.
🚨BREAKING NEWS — THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT is conducting a criminal probe into @CoriBush, according to six sources familiar with the investigation.
The Justice Department subpoenaed the House Sergeant at Arms for records relating to the misspending of federal security money.…
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) January 30, 2024
More info is expected later today.