Ex-U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews of N.J. cleared in campaign-fund complaint

Posted: June 05, 2014

WASHINGTON - The Federal Election Commission has dismissed a watchdog group's complaint against former U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews, saying that even though the South Jersey congressman appeared to use $30,000 of campaign funds for a luxurious family trip to Scotland, he paid the money back and should not be prosecuted.

The commission examined a 2011 trip in which Andrews, a Democrat, tapped his campaign funds to help bring his wife and two daughters to a wedding in Edinburgh, where they stayed in the five-star Balmoral hotel. The FEC found that the political purpose Andrews cited - that the groom had done some campaign consulting for Andrews as a volunteer - "seems too tenuous" to justify using campaign funds.

But since Andrews later repaid the money, "the Commission, in consideration of Commission resources, exercises its prosecutorial discretion and dismisses the allegation," the FEC wrote in a letter dated May 28 to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan group that filed the complaint against Andrews.

The group, which goes by CREW, made the letter public Tuesday - along with its critique of the outcome.

"Surely, thieves everywhere would appreciate a law enforcement policy under which all charges are dropped if, once caught, a wrongdoer simply returns the money," CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said in a news release. "This proves what so many already believe: Members of Congress really don't have to follow the same laws as the rest of us."

The organization argued that Andrews had violated campaign law by using campaign accounts to pay for the Scotland trip and other family activities, including flights to California and a graduation party for one of his daughters.

After the Star-Ledger of Newark first reported his use of campaign funds for the trips, the congressman repaid the moneys, while steadfastly saying he had done nothing wrong.

Andrews, now at the Philadelphia law firm, Dilworth, Paxson and a registered Washington lobbyist, thanked the FEC for its "careful review."

"I have always stated that any fair review of the facts and law would lead to a dismissal of these false and politically motivated accusations," Andrews said in a statement. "I am very grateful to my former constituents for their support and friendship through the years. My family and I are also very thankful for the outpouring of good wishes we have received since I joined the private sector."

Andrews, a longtime congressman from Haddon Heights in Camden County, called CREW a "fringe group" that has run smear campaigns against public officials without disclosing its donors.

The wedding expenses, along with other campaign spending that involved the Andrews family, was also the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation. But that inquiry was cut short when Andrews abruptly resigned from Congress in February. He said his decision was not related to the investigation, but to the job opportunity offered at Dilworth.

CREW also filed complaints with the FEC related to six trips to California on which Andrews took one of his daughters. The watchdog group said she was along for activities related to her singing career. Andrews said she helped as an aide at political events and fund-raisers. Since Andrews' daughter "appears to have attended at least one campaign event" with her father on each trip, and since any violation would appear to be a small one, the FEC said it would dismiss that complaint as well, again citing commission resources.

"It is ridiculous that candidates are now free to use campaign funds to pay for family members' travel as long as they manage to include even a lunch or coffee with a potential donor," said Sloan, of CREW.

The FEC found "no reason to believe" Andrews violated campaign laws by using political funds to help pay for a joint party in 2011 celebrating his 20th year in office and one daughter's high school graduation, or for donations from his campaign committee to Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre, where CREW said one of his daughters often appeared in productions.

Andrews told the FEC that the donation was made at a charitable gala to support the theater.


jtamari@phillynews.com

@JonathanTamari

www.inquirer.com/capitolinq

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