Congress’ ethics office strongly questions Andrews’ spending

U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) is under scrutiny for spending $12,000 in campaign funds on a trip to California.
U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) is under scrutiny for spending $12,000 in campaign funds on a trip to California. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 01, 2012

When U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) had to defend using $30,000 in campaign money to attend a wedding in Scotland - and stay at a five-star hotel there - he said the trip was a chance to "broaden and deepen" his relationship with a onetime donor and adviser.

Taking his family, the South Jersey congressman said later, was all part of building goodwill.

A report released Friday by Congress' ethics office, however, strongly questioned whether the family trip and some of Andrews' other uses of campaign money were really related to his campaigns.

"There is a substantial reason to believe that he improperly used congressional campaign and Leadership PAC funds for personal use, in violation of House rules and federal law," the report from the Office of Congressional Ethics said.

The report, released Friday, shed critical new light on how Andrews used campaign money - such as $16,575 for four business-class tickets to Scotland, $1,800 in flight-change fees, and $7,726 for lodging and other expenses, including flowers, at the Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh.

Campaign accounts also helped fund a dual-purpose party to celebrate Andrews' 20 years in Congress and mark a daughter's high school graduation. Those accounts also paid for flights to California for Andrews and a daughter at the same time that she had music recording sessions in Los Angeles.

None of these were "bona fide campaign or political" expenses, said the report issued by the office, a nonpartisan board that reviews ethics complaints and refers potential violations to Congress. The board recommended subpoenaing credit-card bills and schedules that it did not get during its investigation.

Andrews, a 22-year House veteran, said Friday a full review of his spending would "show that I have followed all rules and met all standards of the House."

A "statement of facts" his office issued said the ethics board erred in its interpretation of the laws about campaign money, and pointed out that the money in question came from his campaign account, not public funds.

"A full and accurate review of the record and a proper application of the law will demonstrate the falsehood of the allegations," the statement said.

The House ethics committee, a panel of 10 members of Congress, has final say on whether Andrews, 55, violated the law and should face penalties. The committee on Friday said it would take more time to review the case.

There is no timetable for when the committee, which first got a referral from the nonpartisan board April 2, has to make a ruling. A statement from the committee said the further review doesn't necessarily mean there has been a violation.

Andrews' critics contended the report issued Friday showed the case was clear-cut.

"Even the notoriously lax ethics committee will have trouble letting Rep. Andrews off the hook," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "While the inquiry undoubtedly will drag on for months, it's hard to fathom a scenario in which Rep. Andrews walks away from this unscathed."

The most eye-popping expenses in question were on the 2011 Scotland trip, for which Andrews billed his congressional campaign fund and his political action committee $30,115. That money covered the costs when he, his wife, and two daughters attended the wedding in Scotland of Scott Street, who has worked on political campaigns.

Andrews repaid the money after news reports brought the trip to light; he also donated to an organization that helps homeless veterans.

The ethics office looked skeptically at Andrews' assertion that Street was a potential political contact, given how little they had worked together. Referring to Street as Witness 1, the board wrote that he "provided minimal, volunteer research" to Andrews in 2008 and in one conversation eight years ago.

"The board notes that Witness 1's law practice does not include political or election law," it added.

The statement Andrews' office issued Friday said he took his family to the wedding to "foster goodwill with an extremely bright and well-regarded individual" and that his "family's attendance was considered important to generate this goodwill as part of their regular practice of campaigning" with him.

Regarding the California trip, Andrews told the ethics office that he traveled without staff and that his daughter helped take notes and sat in on meetings. When ethics officials asked for copies of any such notes, the report said, he told them, "We wouldn't have kept them because it is like the scrap paper in your pocket of things you have to do that day."

Andrews' office said campaign money was not used for the dual-purpose party or for his daughter's recording work in California. The family paid for 35 percent of the party costs, even though only 5 percent of guests were for his daughter, his office said.

It is not the first time Andrews' use of campaign money has been questioned. He was found to have misused money in 2009, when he spent $954 on clothing after an airline lost his luggage. But he repaid the amount and was not penalized by federal election officials. He remains extremely popular in his safe Democratic district and faces little opposition for reelection in the fall.

Camden County Republican chairman Tom Booth called on Andrews to resign, saying, "It's a pretty damning report."


Contact Jonathan Tamari at jtamari@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari.

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