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Alex Mooney

Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va.

There is “substantial reason to believe” that Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., failed to disclose required information in his federal campaign committee filings, according to a newly released U.S. House Office of Congressional Ethics report highlighting evidence suggesting Mooney used campaign money for personal expenses.

That would be a violation of federal law.

The bipartisan House Ethics Committee, a separate body from the independent, nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics, released the report Thursday and announced that it was continuing its review of the four-term congressman.

The Office of Congressional Ethics recommended that the House Ethics Committee review the matter in a 6-0 vote in July, according to the report. The House Ethics Committee, whose membership is divided evenly among five Democrats and five Republicans, has the power to impose sanctions.

House rules do not set a time frame for the House Ethics Committee to complete its review. House Ethics Committee chief counsel and staff director Tom Rust declined comment.

“The Board recommends that the [House Ethics] Committee further review the above allegation concerning Rep. Mooney because there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Mooney converted campaign funds from his campaign committees to personal use, or Rep. Mooney’s campaign committees expended funds that were not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes,” the Office of Congressional Ethics board said in its report.

The Office of Congressional Ethics report focused on evidence its board said indicates campaign finance reporting and spending concerns that constitute violations of Federal Election Commission regulations and House rules.

The evidence suggests that Mooney, 50, of Charles Town, was impermissibly charging day-to-day meals to the campaign and allowed his campaign to pay for personal trips in at least two instances, the Office of Congressional Ethics board concluded in its report.

Mooney’s campaign failed to disclose underlying transactions for at least $40,115 of campaign spending since 2017, according to the report, which noted evidence giving “reason to believe” that failure concealed thousands of dollars of personal use.

Mooney’s campaign finance reports show a “clear pattern” of day-to-day individual meals not properly chargeable to the campaign, the report observed, noting frequent small-dollar meal expenditures at Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread, Taco Bell and pizza vendors near Mooney’s home and office.

A Gazette-Mail review of Mooney’s campaign finance reports found his campaign spent more than $86,000 on food and beverages from the start of 2015 through June, with the vast majority of those purchases coming at restaurants in Ranson, near the four-bedroom Charles Town home Mooney purchased for $430,000 in 2015, according to Jefferson County records.

Mooney indicated that he was justified in charging meals to his campaign whenever there are constituents where he chooses to eat, the report notes, citing an Office of Congressional Ethics interview of Mooney from May in its investigation.

“[L]et’s say you go to Chick-fil-A and you charge that to the campaign, the justification for that, being that there are constituents at the Chick-fil-A that you spoke to?” an Office of Congressional Ethics attorney asked Mooney during the interview, according to the report.

“Yes. Yeah, I was meeting with constituents,” Mooney said, per the report.

The Office of Congressional Ethics noted that it discovered many other local, small-dollar meal expenses that were obscured by deficient campaign finance reporting from Mooney, citing a review of 45 unitemized lump-sum reimbursements from the campaign to Mooney between January 2017 and December 2020 totaling $22,865.

The unitemized reimbursements comprise hundreds of underlying purchases made by Mooney that have not been disclosed as required by Federal Election Commission regulations, according to the report. Many of these unreported expenditures were for Mooney’s personal meals while on district travel near his home or office, the report notes.

The report concludes that a trip Mooney, his wife and three children made to the Canaan Valley Resort & Conference Center, in Davis, in late December 2018 is “most appropriately characterized as a multi-night, resort holiday vacation for Rep. Mooney and his family, paid for with campaign funds” that Mooney unsuccessfully attempted to depict as an official site visit during his Office of Congressional Ethics interview.

Mooney told an office attorney that his intention was to visit employees and those who worked in the area but could not remember who he had visited, per the report, which notes that he was not accompanied by any campaign staff.

Mooney reimbursed the $2,445 in expenditures related to the trip in April, shortly after the Office of Congressional Ethics started its review.

On May 13 and May 14, 2020, after COVID-19 restrictions on indoor and group gatherings had been set, Mooney traveled with one or two of his daughters for a one-night, $189 stay at Smoke Hole Caverns & Log Cabin Resort, according to the report.

The report flagged a $302 expenditure at Smoke Hole Outfitters, in the town of Cabins, on May 14, 2020, that Mooney said was a charge for fishing for staff while on an official district tour. But evidence indicates that no staff members were present on the tour, according to the report. Mooney said that he was accompanied by two national park staff members on a hike of Seneca Rocks, per the report.

“I’m a politician, that’s what I do,” Mooney told the Office of Congressional Ethics. “You’re asking a lot of questions about why I do stop [sic] and I understand, but it’s my job to be out and about meeting people. So on this hike, I’m saying ‘hi’ to families.”

However, the reports states, “Exploring a popular tourist destination in one’s district is not a sufficient political or campaign purpose to justify campaign expenditures for a resort stay and private guided fishing tour for a Member and his family members.”

Of the $22,965 in unitemized reimbursements, Mooney had refunded his campaign $12,139 for his personal expenditures, as of July, per the report, which noted “underlying documentation or at least some level of underlying transaction detail” for an additional $8,461 of the original spending.

That left $2,264 of the originally unitemized reimbursements outstanding, not including an additional $17,250 in unitemized spending related to gift card purchases at Mooney’s local church and its gift shop.

Mooney told the Office of Congressional Ethics that he uses gift cards sold at St. Zita’s Cupboard, the gift shop at the Roman Catholic Parish of St. James the Greater, in Charles Town, to buy food and beverages for campaign events or volunteers because his church receives 2% to 5% of the value of the gift card for each purchase.

That method of campaign spending “circumvents and likely violates” Federal Election Commission regulations requiring disclosure of the ultimate recipient of campaign funds, the report found.

The board noted that Mooney fully cooperated with the review and, “in many cases,” made efforts to remedy violations as they became apparent.

In a statement, Mooney called allegations against him “politically motivated” and pledged to cooperate with the House Ethics Committee to resolve any remaining issues.

“Like President Trump and many other conservative leaders, I will continue to fight through the sea of slanted information and politically motivated leaks that have marred my right to a confidential examination of the facts,” Mooney said.

If the House Ethics Committee finds that a member of Congress under investigation did not violate any laws or rules, it will prepare a report to that effect for the House of Representatives. The committee also may recommend to the House disciplinary action that starts with a letter of disapproval and could escalate to a fine, reprimand, censure (a more severe rebuke than a reprimand) and even expulsion.

But even House reprimands are rare. There have been only 11 House members reprimanded since 1976, according to the House Offices of History, Art & Archives.

The House Ethics Committee released more than 400 pages of exhibits, including transcripts of interviews of Mooney and his staff conducted this spring, staff emails and campaign expense documentation.

“He’s living a life of luxury and has been caught,” said retired West Virginia State Tax Department worker Jerry Payne of Ripley, who submitted a complaint over Mooney’s campaign spending to the Office of Congressional Ethics in August 2020. “He’s attempting to play ignorance with the OCE concerning his misuse of campaign funds, and they ain’t buying it.”

The Office of Congressional Ethics notified Mooney that a preliminary review had begun in March.

Mooney’s last campaign finance report listing small-dollar meal expenditures near his home was for the first quarter of 2021 — the same quarter the office notified Mooney of the preliminary review. More recent campaign finance filings have not shown such expenditures.

The release of the Office of Congressional Ethics report comes a week after Mooney announced his candidacy to represent a new northern 2nd Congressional District approved by West Virginia lawmakers after the state lost one of its House seats following the 2020 census. The redistricting pits Mooney against Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., who is in his sixth term representing the 1st District.

Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or mtony@hdmediallc

.com. Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

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