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October 3, 1995

Honorable Nancy Johnson
Chairwoman
House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct
U. S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

RE: Violations of Federal Law and House Rules By Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins

Dear Chairwoman Johnson:

This letter constitutes a formal ethics complaint against Representative Barbara-Rose Collins for violating federal law and House Rules, which prohibit the use of Congressional staff and other official resources for personal and campaign activities. I am writing pursuant to House Rule 10, which authorizes the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to investigate "any alleged violation, by a member, officer or employee of the House, of the Code of Official Conduct or of any law, rule, regulation or standard of conduct applicable to the conduct of such member, officer, or employee in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities."

In addition, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct should appoint an outside counsel to investigate whether Rep. Collins has improperly made charges against her campaign account ("Friends of Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins"), and improperly accepted monies from a scholarship fund.

A: Rep. Collins' Congressional Staff Regularly Performed Campaign and Personal Tasks

On August 9, 1995, Sarah Pekkanen of The Hill newspaper wrote that:

...a former aide in Collins' Detroit district office told the Hill that she spent up to 80 percent of her time doing work for Collins' 1994 re-election campaign while on the congressional payroll....

The former staffer. Edith Lee-Payne, who served as Collins' community affairs liaison during the spring and summer of 1994, charged that Collins routinely instructed her to perform campaign-related work, including fund raising.

Lee-Payne said she and other staffers used Xerox machines in the district office to copy material for bulk mailings for Collins' re-election campaign, served as the "contact person" for local fund raisers, and collected and deposited checks and logged the amounts into a computer before sending copies to Collins.

...[Lee-Payne said] "In the weeks surrounding a fund raiser, 80 percent of my time could be spent on campaign or fund-raising activities."

Lee-Payne's allegations were confirmed by four former Collins staffers, who said that they and other staffers performed campaign re-election work in her Washington office as well.

In an August 16, 1995, article in The Hill titled "Collins' Aides Performed Personal, Campaign Duties," Sarah Pekkanen reported that:

Staffers for Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins' Detroit district office were given a list detailing personal and campaign-related work they were told to do while on the Congressional payroll, according to documents obtained by The Hill.

One of the documents details a dozen job duties, including Item number 11, which spells out numerous "campaign-related" chores, such as depositing checks for campaign contributions, preparation of donor lists and paying campaign bills.

... item number 12 is identified as "BRC personal," and details "liason [sic] with vendors for her personal accounts, anything related to her apartment (maintenance of her keys)."

B: Call To Investigate Whether Collins' Alleged Misuse of Staff and Official Resources for Campaign and Personal Purposes Violated Federal Law and House Rules

There is a broad prohibition against the use of government resources -- including staff time -- for political or personal purposes. 31 U.S.C. 1301(a) states that:

Appropriations shall be applied only to the objects for which the appropriations were made except as otherwise provided by law.

This basic principal has often been restated. For example, in Common Cause v. Bolger, a Federal District Court stated that:

"It is clear from the record that Congress has recognized the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain reelection."(1)

Similarly, the House Ethics Manual states:

"Funds appropriated to pay congressional staff to perform official duties may be used only for the purposes of assisting a Member in his legislative and representational duties, working on committee business, or performing other congressional functions. Employees may not be compensated from public funds to perform nonofficial, personal, or campaign activities on behalf of the Member, the employee, or anyone else."(2)

House Rule 43, Clause 8 states that:

A Member or officer of the House of Representatives shall retain no one under his payroll authority who does not perform official duties commensurate with the compensation received in the offices of the employing authority.

Given that Edith Lee-Payne has stated that during some weeks she spent as much as 80 percent of her time on Rep. Collins' campaign work, she could not have "performed official duties commensurate" with the salary she received. Although official staff are permitted to perform campaign duties in their spare time, they may only do so "after the completion of their official duties."(3)

In a May 27, 1995 article titled "Rep. Collins Uses Tax Money For Stamps," Lisa Zagaroli and Carol Stevens of the Detroit News reported that:

House records show Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins has used tax dollars to buy nearly 23,000 first-class postage stamps, valued at $6,600, since taking office in 1991...former staffers in Collins' Washington, D.C., office said the stamps were used for fund-raising letters, personal mail and other activities.

The office "just wasn't using them for what (it) should have been using them for," said former staffer Jon Howard. The office "really had no need for postage stamps in the quantities (it) was getting," he said...Other ex-staffers interviewed by The Detroit News reported observing similar uses of office-purchased postage stamps.

Similarly, The Hill article from August 16, 1996 reported that:

Several of Collins' former staffers said the congresswoman routinely purchased postage stamps with taxpayer funds and used them improperly. "Government stamps were frequently used for re-election mailings and the congresswoman's personal mail," said one former staffer. His allegations were confirmed by several other employees.

In addition, the August 9 article in The Hill states that several of Rep. Collins former staff allege that other official resources, including photocopiers, copy paper, and, presumably, computers, were used for campaign purposes. These uses of official resources for campaign purposes are prohibited by federal law.

The House Ethics manual states that "It is... inappropriate to use any official resources to conduct campaign or political activities."(4)

The Committee's "Revised Solicitation Guidelines" state:

Under 31 U.S.C. 1301(a) and under the regulations of the Committee on House Oversight, official resources and allowances may be used only for official activities. Members and House employees are thus prohibited from using any official resources (such as congressional letterhead and telephones, copiers, and fax machines in congressional offices), to solicit campaign funds.(5)

Members of Congress are required to certify and document expenses before they are submitted to for disbursement from official expense account funds.

"Each voucher shall be signed by the member certifying that expenses being submitted for reimbursement are ordinary and necessary business expenses incurred in support of the conduct of his/her official and representational duties to the district from which he/she was elected."(6)

Federal law prohibits the filing of false claims with the federal government. 31 U.S.C. 3729(a) states that:

Any person who --

(1) knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, to an officer or employee of the United States Government...a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval;

(2) knowingly makes, uses, or causes to be made or used, a false record or statement to get a false or fraudulent claim paid or approved by the Government;

(3) conspires to defraud the Government by getting a false or fraudulent claim allowed or paid;

... is liable to the United States Government for a civil penalty of not less than $5,000 and not more than $10,000, plus 3 times the amount of damages which the Government sustains because of the act of that person...

Embezzlement of official resources is prohibited by federal law. 18 U.S.C. 641 states that:

Whoever embezzles, steal, purloins, or knowingly converts to his use or to the use of another, or without authority, sells, conveys, or disposes of any record, voucher, money, or thing of value of the United States...Whoever receives, conceals, or retains the same with intent to convert it to his use or gain, knowing it to have been embezzled, stolen, purloined, or converted -- Shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both...

Given the statements of former employees of Rep. Collins that she used staff and official resources for campaign and official purposes, we urge the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to immediately appoint an outside counsel to investigate the extent of the use and/or embezzlement of official resources for campaign and personal purposes.

C: Call For Investigation to Determine Whether Collins Defrauded Her Campaign Committee

The August 9 article in the Hill reported that:

Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins...claimed she spent $8,500 in campaign funds at a New York City specialty store last November to purchase clocks for which she actually paid only $948, according to a store invoice....

Store owner Jeff Shin could not find other invoices for the $7,500 in question, and said that he doubted such a large sale existed, since he usually sets aside invoices of more than $1,000 so he can contact the customer in the future.

The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct should immediately appoint an outside counsel to investigate the discrepancy between the $8,500 that Collins campaign ("Friends of Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins") claimed was spent, and the $948 that was apparently spent. What was the disposition of the other $7,552?

Did Rep. Collins defraud her campaign accounts of this money, and then cause her campaign treasurer to file a false campaign disclosure filing with the Federal Election Commission in violation of the reporting requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act (2 U.S.C. 434(a)(4))?

In an August 19, 1995 article titled "Collins Seen As Lax Lawmaker" in the Detroit Free Press, Lori Montgomery and Marc Selinger wrote that:

Last October, Collins reported paying $1,000 [from her campaign account] to Detroit Edison to reconnect electricity for "constituents" at an address on Ridgemont Street. The only such address in Detroit Edison's service area is in St. Clair Shores -- outside Collins' district, said Karl Munzenberger, Detroit Edison's area supervisor of residential credit services. Furthermore, Munzenberger said, there is no record that Collins ever made any payment on the account.

What was the disposition of this supposed $1,000 payment to Detroit Edison? Did Rep. Collins defraud her campaign account of the $1,000 in question?



D: Call for Investigation into Whether Collins Violated Federal Law and House Rules by Accepting Monies Transmitted Through a Scholarship Fund

In a September 13, 1995 article in The Hill, Sarah Pekkanen wrote that

Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins pocketed thousands of dollars from a community scholarship fund intended to assist low-income students in her Detroit district, according to evidence obtained by The Hill

The Michigan Democrat wrote a check last year to one of her staffers, drawn on the scholarship fund. She then ordered the staffer to cash the check, worth thousands of dollars, according to documents obtained by The Hill. The staffer then turned the money over to Collins, said knowledgeable sources.

This passage raises many questions concerning the donors to the Collins Congressional Community Scholarship Committee, their intentions, Rep. Collins' intentions, and the ultimate disposition of the funds. Did Rep. Collins use the Collins Congressional Community Scholarship Committee as a money laundry? The Committee should immediately appoint an outside counsel to investigate whether Collins used the fund to launder and accept bribes (18 U.S.C. 201(b)(2)(A)), or illegal gratuities (18 U.S.C. 201(c)(1)(B)), or to commit theft by trickery or conversion. An outside counsel should also determine whether Collins violated tax laws regarding self-dealing (26 U.S.C. 4941), and 1978 Ethics in Government Act financial disclosure rules (5 U.S.C. Appendix 6, 101-111) requiring disclosure of earned and unearned income valued at more than $200, and positions held in nongovernmental organizations.



E: A Collins Fundraising Letter for the Collins Congressional Community Service Committee Apparently Violated House Rule 43

In a September 12, 1995 Detroit Free Press article, Lori Montgomery and Marc Selinger wrote:

In a letter written on official congressional stationery, U.S. Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins has asked some of the nation's largest corporations to donate thousands of dollars to a private Community Service fund...

The letter, dated July 17 and bearing the Detroit Democrat's signature, asked for donations of $2,000 "to cover the expenses for the 5th annual Michigan Bash,"...

The letter says "checks should be made payable to the Collins Congressional Community Service Committee (CCCSC)" and sent to a post office box in Washington. Donors with questions are instructed to call Collins' congressional phone number and to contact "me or ... my chief of staff."

House Rule 43, Clause 11, known as the "facsimile rule," states that:

A member of the House of Representatives shall not authorize or otherwise allow a non-House individual, group, or organization to use the words "Congress of the United States," "House of Representatives", or "Official Business", or any combination of words thereof, on any letterhead or envelope.



F: Conclusion

The Code of Ethics of Government Service states that "public office is a public trust."(7) If Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins has engaged in the lawlessness alleged by her former employees, then she has violated the trust that her constituents have placed in her. I strongly urge you to immediately appoint an outside counsel to investigate the charges above.

Sincerely,



Gary Ruskin

Director

Certificate of Service

This is to certify that I have today, by hand delivery, provided an exact copy of this complaint to the Respondent in this matter, Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins at the following address:

Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins

401 Cannon House Office Building

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515



Gary Ruskin

Complainant



Endnotes

1. Common Cause v. Bolger, 574 F. Supp. 672 (D.D.C. 1982), aff'd 461 U.S. 911 (1983).

2. House Ethics Manual at 193.

3. House Ethics Manual at 284.

4. House Ethics Manual at 280.

5. "Revised Solicitation Guidelines," U.S. House of Representatives, Committee On Standards of Official Conduct, April 4, 1995, at 3.

6. House Ethics Manual at 224.

7. Code of Ethics For Government Service, Clause 10.