What Rep. Matt Gaetz’s staff is calling a “glorified clerical error” represents tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars improperly spent on a racist "speechwriting adviser." There's also a suspicious, secret TV contract, probably with a family member.
Politico did a deep dive into Gaetz’s spending in an article titled, “Matt Gaetz appears to run afoul of House ethics rules.” But the findings are far more damning than the title would imply.
For starters, Gaetz improperly used taxpayer money on a guy who was deemed too racist for the Trump administration:
The Florida Republican concedes that he improperly sent $28,000 in taxpayer funds to a limited liability company connected to the speech-writing consultant, Darren Beattie, a former White House aide who was ousted after appearing at a convention known as a forum for racist and white supremacist views. Gaetz’s aides said it was a clerical error that they are now working to reverse. House rules explicitly prohibit spending taxpayer dollars on speech-writing consultants.
And it sure looks like someone was trying to conceal who was getting that taxpayer money:
Gaetz disclosed 14 separate $2,000 payments to Presidential Communications and Strategies, a limited liability company that appeared to be registered by an unidentified agent in a tiny town in Wyoming. The checks were sent to an apartment in Arlington, Va., according to sources familiar with the arrangement.
The payments were to Beattie, according to multiple sources familiar with the arrangement. Gaetz announced hiring Beattie as a speech-writing adviser in April 2019, but he was never added to Gaetz’s congressional payroll, according to House disbursement records. Instead, Gaetz paid him through the Wyoming-based LLC.
But wait, there’s more:
In another possible violation, a private company installed a television studio in his father’s home in Niceville, Fla., which Gaetz uses when he appears on television. Taxpayers foot the bill to rent the television camera, and the private company that built the studio — which Gaetz refuses to identify — takes a fee each time he appears on air, his office said. It’s unclear how much it cost the private company to construct the studio.
Gaetz’s office likewise declined to detail the television studio arrangement or produce documentation that it was approved [as Gaetz has claimed]. House officials and experts on the chamber's rules said it was extraordinarily unusual and likely violates the gift ban rule.
According to Politico, Gaetz said he uses an “allowable allotment of taxpayer funds to pay $100 per month” to rent the camera and that the private company (which he refuses to identify) pays the other costs and receives its on-air fee without Gaetz’s involvement in the transactions. But that $100 monthly fee does not show up on any of Gaetz’s spending records, Politico found.
Joy Reid and David Cay Johnston discussed the TV contract on The ReidOut tonight. Noting that Gaetz aggressively pitches himself to be on TV, Reid added dryly, “and now it looks like the family’s getting cash off of it.”
Johnston partially blamed Trump for signaling that corruption is A-OK under his administration. The corruption “is spreading from Trump, like the virus,” he said.
You probably will not be shocked to learn that this is not the first or even the second time Gaetz seems to have behaved unethically (not including the DUI charge that was subsequently dismissed).
MSNBC’s Steve Benen reminds that previously, Gaetz got in ethical hot water after he appeared to threaten Michael Cohen on Twitter. More recently, he faced a probe for using public funds to rent an office from a donor at rates below market rate.
Naturally, Donald Trump thinks Gaetz is “fantastic” and “one of the finest and most talented people in Congress.’”