A nonpartisan watchdog group says first-term Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn should face ethics investigations following revelations of his office’s spending of its representational allowance funds.
Over the weekend, Hagedorn’s office confirmed that Chief of Staff Peter Su had departed.
A statement from Hagedorn's office doesn't elaborate on Su's departure, but says the campaign is "making senior-level personnel changes" as part of its investigation into office spending.
That followed an article published Friday revealing that Hagedorn’s office spent 40% of its annual budget in the first quarter of 2020. Part of that spending is $60,240 in printing costs with a Texas-based company, INVOCQ Technologies LLC.
Overall, Hagedorn’s office has spent $101,328 on services from INVOCQ dating back to September 2019, House spending records show.
A Hagedorn staffer, John Sample, is also listed as INVOCQ’s director, chief financial officer and chief technology officer. The link between Hagedorn's office and INVOCQ was first reported Saturday by the Minnesota Reformer.
In a statement issued over the weekend, Hagedorn said he “became aware of the matter approximately two months ago.”
“I took immediate action by hiring outside counsel to perform an independent review, making senior-level personnel changes, and reestablishing best practices for staff and the acquisition of services,” the statement reads.
The statement says Hagedorn advised the House Administration Committee, House Ethics Committee and House Jurisdiction Committee of his office’s review and will continue providing the committees with their findings.
Sample’s current status with Hagedorn’s staff is unclear.
“I imagine the (House) Ethics Committee will look into it, and it certainly sounds like they should,” said Donald Sherman, deputy director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW. “There’s clear violations here, and they certainly deserve to be examined.”
The House Ethics Manual outlines how Members’ Reimbursement Allowance may be used. The manual includes an example of using MRA funds to pay for rent or services from a business or property owned by a staff member as not being allowed.
The $60,240 was part of more than $270,000 that Hagedorn’s office reported spending the first quarter of 2020 on printing and mailers. Most of that was spent on services to Abernathy West LLC.
DFL Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement the overall spending on mailers raises alarms, pointing to a lack of transparency about the ownership of Abernathy.
“For all we know, Hagedorn himself could own Abernathy West and could be pocketing hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars,” he said.
Hagedorn’s office spending on mailers to constituents was far more than other members of Congress and accounts for about 19% of Hagedorn’s entire MRA budget. On average, mailers and printing accounts for about 1% of other congressional members' MRA spending, according to Legistorm, a firm that tracks allowance spending.
Spending the allowance on mailers is commonly referred to as “franking.” Members of Congress are allowed to send direct mailers to constituents until 90 days before an election. The 90-day window is a clear line in the practice, Sherman said.
“As long as members steer clear of that clear, bright line, it’s par for the course,” he said.
In his statement, Hagedorn referred to the practice, saying, “I will continue providing the Committees with findings and offer recommendations to improve House franking operations.”