Ethics Office Finds ‘Substantial Reason To Believe’ Republican Rep Illegally Accepted Caribbean Vacation

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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Republican West Virginia Rep. Alex Mooney may have illegally accepted several gifts from a campaign vendor, most notably a trip to Aruba, in violation of federal campaign finance laws, a report from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) alleges.

The report, released Monday by the House Ethics Committee, finds “substantial reason to believe” that Mooney and his family accepted a vacation to Aruba financed in large part by HSP Direct, a direct mail fundraising vendor. Mooney may have directed congressional staffers to help plan his trip, OCE alleges, in violation of House of Representatives ethics rules.

The Ethics Committee moved to extend its review of the allegations on Feb. 7. It did not announce whether or not it would take action against Mooney as a result of an investigation.

Mooney and his family vacationed in Aruba in March 2021, a trip he claimed in an email to staffers was part of a fundraising retreat organized by HSP Direct’s political action committee. However, the Aruba trip was actually a “goal setting trip for the staff,” an HSP Direct employee wrote in an email to Mooney’s executive assistant, according to the report. The Mooneys were the only people on the trip not employed by HSP Direct, the report noted.

Overall, HSP Direct paid at least $10,803.65 for the Mooney family’s expenses during the vacation, according to the OCE report. Mooney reimbursed $1,637.75 to HSP Direct, which he labeled on the check as related to “airfare.”

Mooney’s office said in a statement that he reimbursed HSP Direct “for what the Congressman believes to be more than the value of any gift to him.”

“There was no improper connection between any gift and any official action by the Congressman. No taxpayer funds were used to pay for this trip,” his office added, saying that he “looks forward to working with the Committee on Ethics to resolve these matters.” (RELATED: ‘Substantial Reason’ To Believe Rep. Lamborn Misused Funds, Berated Staff, Ethics Panel Finds)

Mooney has paid HSP Direct $71,271.28 since 2020 for campaign services, most notably direct mail, according to Federal Election Commission records.

In addition, Mooney’s instructions to his executive assistant and other staffers may have violated rules preventing members from assigning staffers personal errands. Ethics rules prohibit staffers from “be[ing] compensated from public funds to perform nonofficial, personal, or campaign activities on behalf of the Member, the employee, or anyone else.”

Mooney was forced to pay back over $12,000 to his campaign in 2021 after OCE launched an inquiry into alleged misuse of campaign funds. Mooney allegedly spent thousands of campaign dollars on fast food and personal travel.

Mooney, a fourth-term representative, defeated fellow Republican West Virginia Rep. David McKinley in a May 10 primary. He is expected to be reelected easily in a deep-red seat.