A complaint of Democratic “squad” member Rep. Cori Bush's alleged financial misconduct has been filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), after it was revealed that her new husband was hired to provide private security services for her campaign despite the fact that he doesn't have a license to operate as a security contractor.
The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a nonprofit organization “dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency in government and civic arenas,” sent a letter to the FEC on Wednesday calling for an investigation into the matter, citing federal law that prohibits congressional candidates from using campaign funds for personal use.
The organization defined “personal use” as including “Salary payments to a member of the candidate's family unless the family member is providing bona fide services to the campaign.”
If a family member of a candidate is providing bona fide services to a campaign, “any salary payment in excess of the fair market value of the services” could prove “favoritism or an incentive for the campaign to pay for services that are not necessary or pay above the fair market value for those services,” FACT executive director Kendra Arnold wrote.
“These types of payments are subjected to more scrutiny, especially when other factors present indicate the payments were not for bona fide services at fair market value,” she added.
On February 27, Bush's office announced that she had been married to her partner Cortney Merritts, who they said she was in a relationship with prior to her tenure in Congress and who is “not employed by her Congressional office.”
According to FEC records, Bush's campaign paid $571,856 for security services in 2022, including $62,359 to Cortney Merritts.
“However, reportedly Merritts does not have a St. Louis private security license, which is needed to perform security services in the area that encompasses Bush's entire district, nor does he appear within the government database of licensed security professionals in the Washington D.C. area,” the FACT complaint reads. “It was recently revealed that Bush has had a personal relationship with Merritts since before she took office in 2021 and they were married in February 2023.”
“In this case, Bush and Merritts clearly had a close relationship that resulted in marriage and there are other factors present, namely that (1) the payments were regularly made at the same time the campaign was apparently paying a security company for the exact same services and (2) the payee did not have a license to perform the services for which he was being paid,” Arnold wrote.
The letter was concluded by the organization arguing that “Based on the facts above, it appears Rep. Bush's campaign may have made payments for services that were unnecessary or above fair market value because of her personal relationship with the payee. If so, these payments would qualify as either impermissible payments to a family member or an impermissible gift. Therefore, we request the FEC investigate whether Rep. Bush converted campaign funds for personal use by paying a salary that was not for bona fide services at fair market value. Ultimately, if one or more campaign laws are found to have been broken, we request the FEC hold the respondents accountable.”
According to NBC News, congressional and senatorial candidates spent a total of $7.5 million in campaign funds on physical and digital security during the 2022 election cycle, making Bush's private security account for a 7.62 percent chunk out of the hundreds of candidates.
“Everyone understands this is a scam, right? Cori Bush spends gobs of money on ‘security' while even Ilhan Omar spends nearly 10x less,” RedState columnist Bonchie wrote. “There is no world in which Bush actually needs $500,000 in security a year. It's a way to funnel campaign dollars.”
As reported by the Washington Examiner, gifts received by Bush are also being looked at as suspicious.
According to the House Ethics Committee, federal representatives may only accept gifts, including meals, that are $50 or less. Gifts valued over $100 from a single donor are forbidden. However, according to a September 2021 report from Harper's Bazaar, Bush has regularly been gifted “dresses, jewelry, and shoes.”
“We do know that these gifts are happening, and those do lend themselves to more scrutiny,” Arnold said to the Examiner. “One of the basic and fundamental ethics rules that the public wants enforced is that members can't take gifts [above the threshold]. When there's been an admission that there are gifts, it does need transparency and further explanation as to those.”