As the new Congress is sworn in today, outgoing U.S. Rep. Paul Broun of Athens seems to have escaped an ethics investigation into his misuse of taxpayer funds when he hired a GOP strategist to advise his failed Senate campaign.
Congressional investigators in October issued a report that found substantial evidence that Broun used his Congressional taxpayer-funded account in violation of House rules and federal law. The Office of Congressional Ethics board voted unanimously to recommend the House Ethics Committee pursue the case.
But the Committee has run out of time and took no action in the closing months of the Congress. With Broun out of office effective last Saturday, the committee has no jurisdiction in the matter and the Congressional portion of the case is effectively over. The Justice Department could still pursue the case as a criminal matter.
Broun, a Republican elected to the House in 2007, told the AJC in December that he hoped the ethics case would not tarnish his legacy in Congress. He was one of the most conservative members in the House and often criticized irresponsible spending in Washington. He told the AJC he did nothing wrong and what he did was ethical and normal behavior.
The Office of Congressional Ethics found otherwise, according to the AJC's story in October. Its report found Broun paid $43,750 in taxpayer funds to GOP consultant and debate coach Brett O'Donnell. House members are prohibited from using their congressional office funds for political purposes or to hire outside consultants.
The hiring of O'Donnell took place against the backdrop Broun's struggling Senate campaign. He may have turned to his Congressional office fund to enlist O'Donnell's services because his campaign could not afford him, the report found.
If the Justice Department were to pursue a case against Broun, it wouldn't be unprecedented.
Retiring Congressman Steve Stockman and three of his staffers disclosed in November that they were subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in a criminal matter. The Office of Congressional Ethics in June found substantial evidence that Stockman violated campaign finance laws and House ethics rules, according to the Associated Press.
Outgoing Congressman Tim Bishop, a Democrat from Long Island, also faced a federal investigation and a Congressional ethics probe for alleged campaign violations. The federal probe was closed last year without charges, but the open ethics case along with Broun's and others were mentioned in a recent National Journal article that listed a string of House ethics cases, many of them likely to be unresolved before some members exited office this month.
The article detailed a push for what some members say is much-needed ethics training in the House.