Congressman Luis Gutierrez confirmed today he is the target of a review by the House Ethics Committee, for payments to a former staffer and lobbyist who worked on staff training in his office.
Under House Rules, the Ethics Committee was required to divulge the probe, which originated with a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics last December. In a prepared statement, the Committee said it was extending the matter until May 5.
"The Committee notes that the mere facts of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension, and the name of the subject of the matter, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred," the statement said, "or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee."
At issue, some ten years of payments to former Gutierrez staffer Doug Scofield. 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 ten years he provided those services. He still operates a prominent communications firm here in Chicago.
"The contract for services was reviewed and approved by the House of Representatives and submitted for renewal each Congress for 10 years," Gutierrez spokesman Douglas Rivlin said in a statement. "It was consistently and properly reported. Rep. Gutierrez cancelled the contract last year."
Rivlin said Gutierrez had "cooperated fully with the OCE during its review, and will continue to do so with the Committee."
A source familiar with the matter noted that while House rules allow contractors, they do not allow "consultants". At issue for the Ethics Committee, will be whether Scofield's work should be determined to have been as a "contractor" or "consultant".
Scofield is no stranger to controversy. A former deputy governor in the administration of Rod Blagojevich, he was the other party in the conversation during the infamous "bleepin' golden" comment, recorded by the FBI on an undercover tape in November of 2008. He testified in both Blagojevich trials.
In a statement, Scofield noted that the contract was submitted when he was first retained, was approved, and then reviewed again by every subsequent session of Congress.
"In fact, a contractor cannot receive payment from the House of Representatives unless working under a contract that has been reviewed and approved," he said. "While this contract has ended, I am pleased that it was approved and it allowed me to assist the Congressman."