DFL challenger Dan Feehan accused GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn of being "asleep at the wheel," describing news reports that the first-term congressman's office directed at least $100,000 of taxpayer money to a printing company owned by one of his staff members as "shocking" and "disgraceful."
Hagedorn fired his chief of staff, Peter Su, over concerns about "spending irregularities." A nonpartisan watchdog group has called for an investigation into Hagedorn's spending of his allowance fund.
"Rep. Hagedorn has failed his most basic responsibility to be a steward of taxpayer resources, and he has yet again attempted to pass the buck," Feehan said in his first statement since the mailing scandal broke.
News about the improper spending was first reported by the Minnesota Reformer, a nonprofit, independent news operation.
Feehan, who is making his second bid for the seat held by Hagedorn, said the revelations about Hagedorn's spending are at best "disqualifying" and at worst raise concerns of "criminal activity."
"It is clear that Congressman Hagedorn is asleep at the wheel, allowing over one hundred thousand dollars of hard-earned taxpayer dollars to be funneled into his own employee's pockets," he said. "There is far more to learn about the abuse of taxpayer dollars in Rep. Hagedorn's office and who it benefited."
During an interview with a Forum News Service reporter in Mankato, Hagedorn said he took immediate action once he heard about the expenditures problem, making both personnel and policy changes to his office.
"Frankly, it's one of those things you find out that somebody I delegated duties to ... duties didn't get done the way I wanted," Hagedorn said in an apparent reference to his former chief of staff. "Soon as I found out about it, I took decisive action."
Hagedorn said news reports have incorrectly reported that the personnel changes he made were done recently. Those actions were taken two months ago. His office is open to outside review, he said. The findings of an internal review being conducted by an attorney working for him will be shared "as things become available."
The Minnesota Reformer also reported Friday that Hagedorn paid $340,000 for printing services to Abernathy West, a company that has existed for less than a year and "seems to have gone to great lengths to conceal its ownership," it reported.
Hagedorn, who was elected to Congress in 2018 by defeating Feehan by less than 1% of the vote, reportedly spends more money than any other congressman and twice as much as the average House of Representatives office, according to Legistorm, a company that tracks congressional budgets.
He spent half a million dollars in the first three months of this year, which accounted for nearly 40% of his yearly taxpayer-funded office budget and is the equivalent of what the average congressional office spent on payroll and expenses combined during that time frame.
Hagedorn reportedly spent $280,000 — or 19% of his entire annual budget — on printing and sending mail to constituents in the first three months of the year. Of that amount, $60,000 went to Invocq Technologies for printing work. The Texas-based company was formed in 2011 and is owned by John Brevard Sample, of Houston.
Sample is one of Hagedorn's staff members, drawing a $45,000 annual salary as a part-time employee handling digital media. Sample used to work with Su in the Virginia state government, the Minnesota Reformer reported.
Hagedorn said he became aware of the matter two months ago and hired an outside counsel to perform an independent review. He said he has notified various committees, including the House Ethics Committee, of the review.
The revelations came just before President Donald Trump's scheduled stop today in Mankato, part of the 1st District in southern Minnesota that Hagedorn represents. Trump is almost certain to tout Hagedorn, who has been a stalwart supporter of the president's agenda. Hagedorn is also expected to be present at the event.
Minnesota is key to the president's re-election prospects, given that Trump is lagging in Midwestern states that pushed him over the top in 2016.