BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo is accused of committing three ethics violations, according to the findings of a report released this week by the Office of Congressional Ethics.
The 47-page report from the OCE released on Monday says the Board found through a unanimous vote of 6-0 that there is substantial reason to believe that Palazzo converted funds to personal use to pay expenses that were not legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes.
Additionally, the board found that Palazzo may have used congressional resources, including staff time, to benefit himself and his campaign, and possibly used his official position or congressional resources to help obtain special assistance for his brother, Kyle Palazzo.
Noting that all three of the allegations against Palazzo are possible violations of House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law, the committee on ethics published the 47-page report and referred the findings of the report to a committee for further review.
The report issued March 1, 2021, detailed the findings of the OCE, saying they found evidence that Palazzo used campaign funds to maintain his personal riverfront property and to improve the marketability and condition of that property in anticipation of sale. Additionally, former congressional staff members told the OCE, and documents reviewed by the OCE suggested, that Palazzo may have asked official staffers to perform campaign work and personal errands during the congressional workday. Finally, the OCE found evidence that Rep. Palazzo may have used his official position and congressional resources to contact the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in order to assist his brother’s efforts to reenlist in the military.
The report also notes that Palazzo did not cooperate with the OCE review, nor did 13 other individuals, including the Palazzo for Congress campaign and Palazzo’s brother Kyle. The OCE sought to interview Palazzo, the treasurer of his campaign committee and leadership PAC, and five current and former staffers about these matters. They all declined the OCE’s invitations to interview, states the report.
Rep. Palazzo’s office issued a statement on Tuesday morning saying:
Congressman Palazzo welcomes the opportunity to work through this process with the House Committee on Ethics and will fully cooperate with the Committee to show that he has complied with all relevant rules and standards.
This matter is the direct result of false allegations made by a primary opponent and the Campaign Legal Center claiming that the Congressman’s campaign paid him for rent of a farm in Perkinston, Mississippi. Simple investigation shows that the payments were actually made for a property in D’Iberville, Mississippi owned by the Congressman, appropriately and legally used for a campaign office and rented at fair market value.
Congressman Palazzo has retained the services of former Congressman Gregg Harper to represent him before the Committee. Harper served five terms in Congress and served on the House Committee on Ethics for two of those terms as well as one term as the Chairman of the Committee on House Administration.
Congressman Palazzo will continue to serve his constituents with honor and integrity, and he looks forward to having this matter concluded as soon as possible.
The OCE committee also noted in its report that the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.
The allegations against Palazzo surfaced in February 2020 when Carl Boyanton, one of the Palazzo’s challengers in the Republican 2020 primary, issued a news release saying he filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Office of Congressional Ethics.
In March 2020, the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, D.C. watchdog group, filed a complaint against Palazzo questioning spending and alleging he used campaign contributions as a “personal slush fund.” The Campaign Legal Center pointed to $60,000 Palazzo’s campaign paid to rent the congressman’s own property in Perkinston and paying nearly $127,933 to his then-wife’s accounting firm.
In a statement made in November, Palazzo’s campaign spokesman Justin Brasell defended the congressman, calling the allegations “baseless.”