Prioritizing the Public Interest: CLC Files a Complaint Against Representative Steven Palazzo

Steven Palazzo speaking to a man in military fatigues
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Farrell Thomas, 2nd Air Force command chief, speaks with Steven Palazzo, U.S. Congressman, during the Division Street Gate Groundbreaking Ceremony at Biloxi, Mississippi, May 11, 2018. U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue.

More examples continue to emerge of members of Congress prioritizing their personal interests over the public interest. They range from the sentencing of former Rep. Duncan Hunter for spending over $150,000 of campaign funds on personal expenses to Sen. Richard Burr offloading millions of dollars of stock shortly after a closed-door Senate briefing on the coronavirus pandemic. Abuses of the public’s trust can always lurk in the shadows, requiring transparency and oversight to bring these abuses to light. 

During this time of a massive public health crisis, it is more important than ever to hold public servants accountable for all abuses of power to preserve the trust of their constituents and supporters. This is why Campaign Legal Center (CLC) asked the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to investigate possible misuse of campaign funds by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS). Specifically, Rep. Palazzo may have used campaign funds to pay himself and his spouse nearly $200,000. 

Rep. Palazzo’s campaign expenditures that appear to be illegal payments for personal expenses include $60,000 in rental payments to his farm and $127,933 to his spouse’s accounting firm. House rules and campaign finance law are intended to prohibit a candidate from making campaign payments to himself or his family members because “such outlays by their nature raise a concern of personal use.” Rep. Palazzo’s actions seem to conflict with the letter and spirit of the law.  

If a member of Congress feels empowered to use campaign contributions as a personal slush fund, how can the public trust that the same representative will be a good steward of their taxpayer money when a crisis arises? 

To read the letter to OCE click here.  

Kedric is CLC's Vice President, General Counsel, and Sen. Dir., Ethics
Delaney is the Director, Ethics at CLC.