Hampshire County’s representative in Congress is accused of spending more than $40,000 in campaign funds on prohibited personal expenses — from Chick-fil-A meals to taking his daughters to Smoke Hole Caverns.
A spokesman for Republican Alex Mooney says many allegations are “partisan” and incidents reported are “inaccurate.”
The Office of Congressional Ethics, made up of 6 bipartisan private citizens, has turned over its report to the House Ethics Committee, which has begun its own investigation.
The Ethics Committee’s investigation will determine whether Mooney omitted required information from Federal Election Commission reports or converted campaign funds for his personal use.
When the ethics office began its inquiry into Mooney’s spending, he repaid $12,000 to his campaign.
Both campaign law and House rules prohibit using campaign funds for normal personal expenses.
“Personal use means any use of funds ... (for) expense … that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or duties as a federal officeholder,” federal elections regulations say.
House rules “require that members be able to verify that campaign funds have not been used for personal purposes.”
Reporters for CQ Roll Call, which covers Capitol Hill, obtained the ethics report and published an extensive report on it 2 weeks ago.
“The Roll Call article fails to explain key aspects of the leaked Office of Congressional Ethics report and focuses on inaccurate allegations.” Mooney campaign spokesman Mark Harris claimed.
Mooney had his campaign, called “Alex Mooney for Congress,” make 220 payments of $25 or less at eateries in West Virginia since 2017. The tab totaled $3,475 at places like Chick-fil-A and Taco Bell.
Mooney billed his campaign $12 for a meal at the Wingstop in Martinsburg, telling the Office of Congressional ethics that he had picked up campaign mail at the post office there and visited with constituents while he ate there.
OCE said that reply underscored a misunderstanding of personal use rules regarding meals.
“In his interview, Rep. Mooney stated that he feels justified in charging meals to the campaign any time there are constituents at the location he happens to choose to eat at that day,” the office’s report said.
The ethics office also found that Money’s trip to Smoke Hole and another to Canaan Valley Resort were for personal use rather than campaigning.
Mooney and his family spent “a few days” at Canaan in December 2018. Canaan lies outside the 2nd District, which stretches from Harpers Ferry to the Ohio River across the middle of West Virginia.
Mooney told investigators that more than a holiday trip, it was a “site visit” with employees and those who work in the area. A planned meeting with a donor never happened. The ethic office’s report concluded, “he unsuccessfully attempted to characterize as an official site visit.”
Mooney reimbursed his campaign $2,445 for expenses related to Canaan Valley Resort at the direction of his lawyer, Dirk Haire.
The Smoke Hole visit occurred in May 2020 as the nation was in lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mooney traveled with his 5-year-old daughter for a 1-night stay on May 13, and billed the campaign $189. On May 14, the campaign spent $302 at Smoke Hole Outfitters, which offers guided fishing tours. He did not have receipts.
Mooney told investigators the expenses were “for fishing for staff” while on an official district tour, but the report concluded, “the weight of the evidence indicates that no staff members were present on this tour.”
The House Ethics Committee could take no action or could go as far as recommending Mooney be expelled from Congress.
The last 2 similar cases resulted in no action after both members resigned, Democratic Rep. Robert Andrews in 2014 and Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter in 2020.
Mooney, a move-in from Maryland, was 1st elected in 2014. He faces uncertain prospects if he seeks a 5th term in 2022 because West Virginia is losing a seat in Congress. Mooney is likely to be thrown into a primary against 1 of the other 2 Republican representatives, David McKinley in the 1st District or Carol Miller in the 3rd. o