Earlier this year, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), requesting an investigation into possible violations of federal law and House rules by Rep. James “Jim” Hagedorn.
Hagedorn’s campaign appears to have occupied rent-free office space for more than seven years, possibly constituting an illegal in-kind or excessive campaign contribution from the corporate owner of the property who was a key donor to his campaign.
After an investigation, the OCE found substantial reason to believe that Hagedorn’s campaign did use private office space at no cost or for a rate below fair market value, in violation of federal law, FEC regulations and House rules.
Members of Congress are expected to serve the public impartially, free from influence of gifts, favors or illegal political contributions. When a lawmaker accepts illegal gifts or other in-kind contributions and then fails to report the source of that funding, it creates the appearance of corruption and weakens public trust.
Hagedorn’s campaign committee, Friends of Hagedorn, used a campaign office suite in Mankato, Minnesota, for roughly seven years, but he did not report the payments for that office space on his mandatory Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports, nor did he report receipt of any in-kind contributions for it.
The building was owned by a local developer who was a significant donor to Hagedorn’s campaign.
Under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), receipt of free campaign office rent from an individual is an in-kind contribution subject to limits, and it is illegal to receive such an in-kind contribution from a corporation. In any case, Hagedorn was required to report the source and amount of money received or spent on his campaign office space.
In addition, House ethics rules bar violations of FECA and the acceptance of illegal campaign contributions.
CLC filed the complaint with OCE based on evidence that Hagedorn was in fact using this space as his campaign headquarters but was not documenting any payment for that use. Despite this substantial evidence that Hagedorn was using the office for years, Hagedorn’s campaign did not report payments to the company that owns the property.
This suggests that Hagedorn was illegally using the office space at no cost or for a rate below fair market value. The OCE’s report confirms the allegations in CLC’s complaint.
The next step is that the House Committee on Ethics must hold members of Congress accountable for violations established by OCE investigations.
Public confidence in government depends on members of Congress following both campaign finance law and ethics rules — and doing so transparently. Illegal in-kind contributions undermine this confidence by giving the appearance that lawmakers are susceptible to improper and corrupting influences.