U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez will look to maintain his seat in Illinois’ 4th Congressional District as he faces Republican candidate Hector Concepcion at the ballot box in November.
Known as a strong proponent of federal immigration reform, Gutierrez ran for mayor of Chicago in 2010 but dropped out to focus on immigration reform. After the 2008 presidential election, he was considered as a replacement for President Barack Obama's senate seat but was ruled out after stating he would only serve temporarily.
Gutierrez recently criticized the White House for Obama’s immigration indecision.
Gutierrez said in September that he worried the presidential postponement could have political consequences for state Democrats seeking re-election, saying "it's clear that playing it safe is what is going on at the White House and among Democratic circles. And playing it safe means walking away from our values and our principles."
Gutierrez was the subject of an investigation by the House Ethics Committee.
Earlier this year, the committee voted to extend its review of payments made by Gutierrez to a former staffer and lobbyist who worked on staff training in his office.
At issue is some 10 years of payments to former Gutierrez staffer Doug Scofield.
"The Board recommends that the Committee on Ethics further review the allegation," the statement reads, "as there is substantial reason to believe that Representative Gutierrez used funds from his [Members' Representational Allowance] for an impermissible purpose -- to retain an individual to provide services to his congressional office that more closely resembled those provided by an employee or consultant, rather than a contractor -- in violation of federal law and House rules."
Scofield, who until recently worked as a lobbyist in Illinois, was retained as a "paid contractor" to train staff and help write news releases. Scofield was paid more than $500,000 in public funds during the 10 years he provided those services. He still operates a prominent communications firm here in Chicago.
The committee noted in its report that Scofield was retained from 2003 to 2013 to provide "training" and other "non-legislative" assistance to Gutierrez's congressional office.
Gutierrez's office paid Scofield's firm more than $590,000 since 2003 for the services, according to the committee's report, and more than $345,000 since March 2008.
"If Representative Gutierrez used funds from his MRA for an impermissible purpose ... then he may have violated House rules and federal law."
A spokesman for Gutierrez noted the committee decided not to convene a special ethics panel and the committee "ultimately found no conduct [relating to lobbying, campaign activities and the Congressman's memoir] that necessitated additional review by the House Committee on Ethics."
“The Congressman and his office cooperated fully with the inquiry of the OCE," spokesman Douglas G. Rivlin said. "The OCE requested ten years of records, files, notes and communications (including e-mails) between Doug Scofield and Congressman Gutiérrez and the Congressman’s staff. The Congressman and ten current or former staff members also voluntarily spoke with the OCE.”
Gutierrez’s opponent is Chicagoan Hector Concepcion.
Concepcion, originally born in Puerto Rico, served as the executive director of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce in Illinois and works as CEO and president of Samson Investment Group. He is a speaker for the New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico and considers himself an immigrant rights activist. Concepcion's issues of focus are lack of employment and public safety.
Concepcion plans to focus on job creation, educational reform, Puerto Rican statehood, and immigration reform.
Concepcion says he support immigration reform and amnesty for 11 million immigrants in the United States.
While his stance on immigration reform could improve his standings among Latin American voters, it likely won’t be enough to overtake Gutierrez, who has built a strong relationship with the Hispanic community and is considered the favorite.