Watchdog Calls on House Ethics Committee to Enforce Rules, Produce Byron Donalds Legal Expense Docs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 17, 2023
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) sent a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries calling on House leadership to demand the House Committee on Ethics carry out its institutional obligations around document transparency. The letter highlights a recent discovery that the Ethics Committee has failed to supply the Legislative Resource Center (LRC)—a vital public access point for government transparency—with documents related to multiple members’ legal expense funds. The most egregious example concerns missing paperwork around Rep. Byron Donalds’ Legal Expense Trust.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Members of both parties claim that ethics will be important in this Congress, yet we’re seeing an ongoing inability to follow the rules. If even the Ethics Committee won’t play by the book, how can members reasonably expect the public to trust that Congress will comport itself ethically?”
The unfulfilled obligations in this case concern the Legal Expense Fund Regulations—dated December 20, 2011—which lay out the transparency requirements for members wishing to create legal expense funds to solicit and accept campaign contributions to pay legal fees they incurred as candidates or federal officeholders. The regulations state that, prior to accepting any contributions, members must obtain written permission from the Ethics Committee. The Committee must then pass that initial written permission—and subsequent quarterly reports for each fund—to the LRC.
While it appears that the Ethics Committee has failed to enforce these regulations across multiple funds, the Byron Donalds Legal Expense Trust is perhaps the most egregious example of the committee’s malfeasance. A spokesman for Rep. Donalds told the media in January that “the congressman established a legal-expense trust in the middle of last year to raise money to reimburse his campaign.”
Therefore, the following documents should be publicly available at the Legislative Resource Center: (1) the Byron Donalds Legal Expense Trust agreement, (2) a letter from the House Ethics Committee approving the trust agreement for the Byron Donalds Legal Expense Trust, (3) the Byron Donalds Legal Expense Trust July 2022 Quarterly Report, (4) the Byron Donalds Legal Expense Trust October 2022 Quarterly Report, and (5) the Byron Donalds Legal Expense Trust January 2023 Quarterly Report. Only two of the five required documents are publicly available at the Legislative Resource Center. Without this required paperwork, it is impossible to know where Rep. Donalds is getting money from and how he is spending it.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Without transparency, it’s impossible to know whether Rep. Donalds is engaging in unethical behavior. It’s crucial that House leadership demands real accountability from all parties so that this question can be answered, and public trust can begin to be restored.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.