Gardner using taxpayer funds to pay more than $50,000 salary for Coffman's campaign staff
A while ago, we reported that Cory Gardner was using tax payer funds to pay a hefty salary to his chief of staff, who had moved on to serve as Mike Coffman's campaign director. With the recent release of additional House Disbursement reports, there can be no doubt that Chris Hansen has continued to receive payments from Gardner's office for his work on Mike Coffman's campaign. This is a violation of House Ethics Rules and, potentially, a violation of federal law.As we know, Cory Gardner feels his campaign is safe and is doing everything he can to campaign for other more-endangered Republicans and tour the state acting as a surrogate for Willard Romney. Mike Coffman is facing one of the most difficult reelection campaigns in the country right now, so it makes sense that Gardner is trying to help however he can. This is why Gardner Chief of Staff Chris Hansen announced in January that he would be leaving Gardner's office to take over, full-time, as Coffman's campaign manager. What is troubling is that since that announcement in January, Hansen has received a taxpayer salary of more than $53,000. Hansen's departure announcement came one week into 2012, yet between January and March of this year, he pulled in a salary of $30,000. In that initial report, the Denver Post noted that Hansen had already moved to Colorado full time. He was then quoted on April 5, 2012 as Coffman's campaign manager. I would imagine that by that time he was working pretty well full time for Coffman. Yet between April 1 and June 30, Hansen was paid another $23,333 by Gardner's office. What were tax payers paying for there? It looks to me that Cory Gardner is using House funds to get Mike Coffman reelected. To make up for Hansen's absence, Gardner's office even had to promote another staff member to Deputy Chief of Staff (with a corresponding pay increase), while continuing to pay Hansen his full-time salary. Coffman's campaign apparently was enjoying Hansen's service as chief of staff for free, until he paid Hansen a salary of $6000 in mid June, according to FEC filings. Early January to mid-June is a long time to not pay your campaign staff any salary at all. Or, it would be if your staff wasn't already receiving a salary from tax payers for the campaign work. The House Ethics Committee says that House employees are allowed to work on campaigns during their own time, but if they work on campaigns while staying on House payroll, they need to be very careful.
Employees who do campaign work while remaining on the House payroll should keep careful records of the time they spend on official activities and, separately, on campaign activities, and demonstrate that campaign work was not done on official time. The rules governing campaign work by House employees were implicated in a Committee on Ethics disciplinary case that was completed in the 106th Congress. In that case the Committee determined that a Member had violated the House Code of Official Conduct in that his staff members worked for his campaign during regular office hours without taking annual leave or going on Leave Without Pay status, or taking any other steps to ensure that those services were rendered during time that was properly deemed the employee’s “own time.”
Further, in the House Ethics Manual:
Under House Rule 23, clause 8 a Member is always responsible for ensuring that each of his or her employees performs official duties that are commensurate with the compensation that the employee receives from the House. Thus when it is anticipated that an employee will be assuming significant campaign duties, it may be necessary for the employing Member to make an appropriate reduction in the employee‘s House pay.
If Chris Hansen was living in Colorado full-time, where Chief of Staff duties are probably difficult to perform, and serving as Coffman's campaign manager (where he was readily available to the press for responses to inquiries) what duties was he performing for the House of Representatives? What duties was he performing that were commensurate with receiving a $10,000 per month salary? Beyond violating Ethics Rules, Gardner's office paying the salary of Coffman's campaign director may violate federal criminal law, according to the House Ethics Manual:
Moreover, Members must regularly certify that all official funds have been properly spent. A false certification may bring criminal penalties, and the government may recover any amount improperly paid. Misuse of official House resources for campaign purposes may violate other criminal laws as well. For example, in 1993 a former House employee pleaded guilty to a charge of theft of government property for receiving a House salary and expenses for time when, despite his claim that he was conducting official business, he was in fact doing campaign work. In addition, in 1979 a former Member pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud and income tax evasion based on claims that persons on his congressional payroll were paid not for the performance of official duties, but instead for staffing and operating various campaign headquarters in his re-election campaign.
With more than $53,000 paid in 6 months of 2012 to a staff member who announced his departure from the office for campaign purposes one week into the year, I think Gardner and Mike Coffman have some explaining to do, to account for how that money was spent. Chris Hansen and Cory Gardner may have violated federal criminal law with this misuse of House funds. Mike Coffman at least knew who was paying for his campaign manager, as his first salary payment to Hansen wasn't made until mid-June. I may have my own biases against Gardner and Coffman, but this is an egregious misuse of taxpayer funds and it should be a concern to everyone. How else have Gardner and Coffman misused House funds? There needs to be some accountability on this issue and the public deserves to know.