Another Republican Congressman Caught With His Hand In The Cookie Jar

Earlier this year San Diego Republican crook and now-ex-Congressman Duncan Hunter, Jr was sentenced to 11 months in prison (and his wife to 8 months in home confinement). Hunter's crime spree was a copy-cat GOP event (Jay Kim) and a model for the next Republican congressional crook with sticky fingers, Mississippi Rep. Steve Palazzo. Perhaps if Hunter's punishment fit his crimes more, Palazzo would have been deterred. Or probably not-- greed and avarice are part of the core nature of conservative politics.

Palazzo, who was just reelected without opposition in the southeast corner of Mississippi, represents the reddest district in the state with an R+ 21 PVI. His last Democratic opponent, Jeramey Anderson, in the midst of the anti-red wave go 2018, pulled 31%. (Trump won the district with 69.4% in 2016 and certainly went over 70% this time around.) But by mid-October, Palazzo raised $728,254 anyway-- and spent $620,050. A member of the House Appropriations Committee, his single biggest source of contributions comes in the form of legalistic bribes from the military industrial complex.

Like Duncan Hunter, the overly-entitled and paunchy Palazzo treats his campaign contributions as a personal slush fund and is now under investigation by the congressional ethics office.

Mississippi Today reported that "Palazzo spends thousands of dollars a year from his campaign account on meals, from the swankiest restaurants and clubs in Washington, D.C., and Mississippi, to Hooters, Newk’s, pizza and fast food chains, and live music and barbecue joints. In all, Palazzo has spent more than $115,600 on meals since he took office in 2010-- an average of $11,560 a year-- not counting the nearly $188,000 he spent catering events and booking venues for his campaign... Palazzo has also spent tens of thousands of dollars on hotel rooms in D.C., Mississippi and beachside Florida resorts, entertainment and golfing-- including a $3,100 golf cart. The campaign also has spent nearly $42,000 on “gifts.” The Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating Palazzo’s campaign spending after the Campaign Legal Center watchdog group in March filed a complaint. That complaint centered on whether Palazzo used campaign funds to pay himself and his erstwhile wife nearly $200,000 through companies they own."

Palazzo, using standard GOP templates, claims it's all politically motivated and that he's cooperating with the OCE investigation and will be exonerated. They all say that right up until they start trying to cop a plea to stay out of prison. He also says his report had a "typo" (a $119,771 payment originally listed to the Hyatt Regency hotel on Capitol Hill was only for $1,197, spent on "hotel rooms for Congressman Palazzo’s family for campaign events they attended in D.C.") and that "we found a couple of mistakes and we fixed it" by reimbursing the campaign.

Mississippi Today also reported that "the Campaign Legal Center said Palazzo, who makes $174,000 a year as a congressman, appears to be using his campaign account as a 'personal slush fund.' Federal law and U.S. House rules prohibit conversion of campaign money to personal use. Violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act can carry felony criminal penalties. The OCE investigates such complaints and can recommend they be dismissed, handed off to the House Ethics Committee for further review or discipline, or refer them to the U.S. Department of Justice for criminal investigation... The CLC complaint being investigated by the ethics office is centered on:

  • More than $60,ooo in monthly rental payments of $3,000 from the campaign to a property company called Greene Acres MS that Palazzo owns in Perkinston. Palazzo claims this was for a campaign office, but the complaint said there is a “lack of any publicly available information” about the campaign having used such an office.

  • More than $146,000 to his now former wife’s accounting firm-- which Palazzo turned over to her after he took office. The campaign also was paying another accounting firm “for apparently the same services,” the complaint said. Palazzo’s campaign, the CLC complaint says, in recent years has paid nearly as much for accounting services as his three Mississippi House colleagues paid combined. Brasell said the Palazzo firm handled the campaign’s day-to-day accounting while the other firm handled FEC compliance and reporting.

"But the payments also raise questions about Palazzo’s separation and later divorce from his wife. The 2016 divorce settlement said Palazzo shall “continue to pay the wife rent” of $1,500 a month on an Arlington, Va., condominium in which he has lived while in D.C. Palazzo’s campaign payments to the accounting firm are mostly for round numbers... and on aggregate total nearly the same amount as $1,500 a month rent would. Palazzo’s divorce records also said he would be responsible for debt on a Perkinston home and property, raising questions of whether his payments to his Greene Acres property company were campaign related or for mortgage on the home and property... Other notable expenditures from Palazzo’s campaign funds include:

  • Nearly $42,000 in “gifts.” These gifts include thousands of dollars worth of liquor and wine and purchases from a tactical clothing outfitter, a cowboy boot store and university campus stores. The campaign said these are “memorabilia for fundraising events, items given to silent auction events for local political party groups, etc.”

  • More than $12,700 on sporting events in the Washington, D.C. area. This includes about $2,000 on “fundraising expenses” at Washington Nationals baseball games, and more than $10,600 with Washington Suite Life, which offers suites at sporting and other events. Palazzo’s campaign said these expenses were for “tickets to the Nationals game for the fundraising event.”

  • More than $53,000 on golf-related expenses. This includes more than $3,100 for a golf cart for campaign events and thousands of dollars for golf balls, hats and tees with his logo on them. The campaign has for years held a golf tournament fundraiser at the Preserve Golf Club on the Coast.

  • Nearly $7,500 for “trailers.” The campaign has made five expenditures over several years for trailers, including one in 2018 for nearly $2,200 to MCPAL Company for an “enclosed trailer.” Secretary of State filings show Palazzo’s mother is president of MCPAL Company. Palazzo’s campaign said the MCPAL payment “was a reimbursement for a borrowed trailer that was stolen during the campaign.” The statement said, “As of now the campaign has one covered trailer and one flatbed trailer.”

Kedric Payne, general counsel and director of ethics for the Campaign Legal Center, said: “The big picture is that this diminishes the public’s trust when a congressman uses campaign money for a personal slush fund. It is encouraging to see there is an investigation into this.” Well... not really the public in Mississippi: