Rep. __Matt Gaetz, Donald Trump’s man in Florida, has found himself at the center of yet another scandal—but this time around, it does not involve fraternizing with an accused Holocaust denier or drunk driving. Instead, the Panhandle Republican may have violated House ethics rules in two separate incidents. Politico reported on Wednesday that Gaetz surreptitiously directed $28,000 in taxpayer dollars to a company that offers consultant work for speeches, a money transfer prohibited under House rules. The LLC that received the funds is tied to Darren Beattie, who previously worked in the White House until he was removed from the Trump post after it was revealed that he spoke at a convention that was known to be a forum for white nationalist and racist views.
In another possible ethics infraction, Gaetz had an unnamed private company set up a home studio for his remote television hits. While the exact costs of his in-home studio is unknown, it’s installation could potentially break a House rule that bars U.S. representatives from accepting gifts valued at $50. Its continuous use could also run afoul of ethics rules, as Gaetz uses taxpayer money to pay the TV camera’s rental bill to the company that built the studio, which also charges a fee each time the congressman broadcasts from it.
In response to questions about him using taxpayer money to pay the speech-consulting company, Gaetz’s office acknowledged that it happened but denied any intentional wrongdoing. “Although the contractual arrangement was approved by the necessary House authorities, a second review by the Finance Office determined that the services could not be contracted for in exactly that fashion, and our office is currently working through the best way to proceed with both Finance and the House Ethics Committee,” read the statement. “The funds were all immediately returned to the House as soon as the review determined this was not the right way to structure this. This is nothing more than a glorified clerical error.” The representative’s staff then took shots at the outlet that broke the news, writing that it is “baffling that Politico should find this newsworthy” and “disappointing Politico plots to demean individuals who’ve made an innocent clerical mistake and are working to correct it.”
As for the set that Gaetz uses to boost the backdrop of his cable-news hits, his office justified the expenditures by claiming the space is used to “communicate with constituents and the nation” and is no different than any other “studio anywhere in the nation for any member of Congress.” The statement noted that “Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) pays a fee of $100 per month to rent” the camera and added, “The hard costs for the studio in Niceville were paid by a private company, which then charges media companies per uplink to the camera…Congressman Gaetz is not involved in these transactions. Our office consulted with the House Ethics Committee and the House Administration Committee throughout the entire setup process for guidance on how to maintain compliance with House rules, which we have done.”
Gaetz’s personal brand has ballooned in his nearly four years as a lawmaker, making a scandal involving a speech-writing company and a cable-ready at-home studio almost too on the nose. His appetite for media controversy has done wonders for his name recognition. In the past few months alone, Gaetz contributed to COVID-19 conspiracy theories by falsely accusing the National Institutes of Health of giving a $3.7 million grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology; wore a military gas mask onto the House floor in a coronavirus fashion statement and cry for attention; and called for the U.S. military to hunt down anti-police-violence protesters “like we do to those [terrorists] in the Middle East.”