Watchdog: WVa Rep. Mooney likely broke rules with Aruba trip

May 23, 2022, 3:30 AM | Updated: 6:37 pm
FILE - Rep. Alex Mooney, a Republican candidate for U.S. Representative for West Virginia's 2nd Con...

FILE - Rep. Alex Mooney, a Republican candidate for U.S. Representative for West Virginia's 2nd Congressional District, addresses a campaign rally at the Westmoreland Fair Grounds in Greensburg, Pa, on May 6, 2022. Mooney has won the Republican nomination for one of West Virginia’s two seats in the U.S. House. Former President Donald Trump had endorsed Mooney. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A congressional watchdog has determined that Rep. Alex Mooney likely broke House rules when the West Virginia Republican accepted a trip to Aruba allegedly paid for by a campaign client and family friend.

The latest allegations were included in a statement released Monday by the House Ethics Committee, which said it was extending the review of an Office of Congressional Ethics report sent to the committee in December.

The House Ethics Committee includes five Democrats and five Republicans and is chaired by Florida Democrat Ted Deutch. The panel has several ways of potentially punishing lawmakers for wrongdoing, including fines and reprimands.

Mooney, who is backed by former President Donald Trump and has represented the state in the House since 2015, will face Democrat Barry Wendell, an openly gay former Morgantown city council member, in November’s general election. Mooney easily defeated incumbent Rep. David McKinley in the May 10 GOP primary.

An ethics probe launched against Mooney last year initially was about whether he had used campaign cash to make personal purchases.

In the latest OCE report, HSP Direct, a direct mail fundraising company that provides services to Mooney’s campaign committee, allegedly paid for a trip for his family to Aruba along with free lodging and event space in March 2021.

The company’s payment of at least $10,800 in travel, lodging, meals and other amenities likely constituted an impermissible gift under House rules, and Mooney also likely violated House rules and federal law when his congressional staff was enlisted to plan the vacation using official time and resources, the report said.

A statement issued by Mooney spokesperson Ryan Kelly said the congressman has fully reimbursed HSP Direct “for what he believes to be more than the value of any gift to him.

“There was no improper connection between any gift and any official action by the Congressman. No taxpayer funds were used to pay for this trip. Congressman Mooney will work with the Committee on Ethics to resolve any outstanding questions.”

Mooney is a longtime friend of HSP Direct CEO Jamie Hogan. Federal Election Commission filings show Mooney’s campaign committees disclosed nearly $61,000 in payments to HSP Direct for direct marketing since 2020, while Hogan and his wife have contributed at least $28,100 to Mooney’s campaign since 2016, the report said.

The report also said two former Mooney staff members told the OCE that he “tampered with or withheld documents” and that Mooney refused to cooperate when the office tried to investigate the claims.

“However, evidence and testimony indicate that Rep. Mooney may have offered false testimony and altered his calendar in order to conceal wrongdoing,” the OCE said.

The statement from Mooney’s office denied those allegations as “prime examples — but far from the only examples — of the OCE reaching biased conclusions.”

The statement said the review “was tainted from the outset” by what he called the office’s procedural irregularities, rampant factual misrepresentations and denial of due process.

Wendell declined comment on the ethics complaint.

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Watchdog: WVa Rep. Mooney likely broke rules with Aruba trip