Congressional Accountability Project
1611 Connecticut Ave. NW Suite 3A
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 296-2787
fax (202) 833-2406

July 16, 1998

The Honorable Robert Smith, Chairman
The Honorable Harry Reid, Ranking Minority Member
Select Committee on Ethics
United States Senate
220 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senators Smith and Reid:

This letter constitutes a formal ethics complaint against U.S. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL), and a request for an investigation into whether she illegally converted campaign funds to personal use, violated criminal laws regarding the payment of taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and violated Senate Rules.

This complaint is filed pursuant to Senate Resolution 338, which authorizes the Senate Select Committee on Ethics ("Ethics Committee") to "receive complaints and investigate allegations of improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate, violations of law, violations of the Senate Code of Official Conduct, and violations of rules and regulations of the Senate...and to make appropriate findings of fact and conclusions with respect thereto..."(1)

A: Request for Investigation into Whether Senator Moseley-Braun Illegally Converted Campaign Funds to Personal Use

On July 12, 1998, WBBM/TV-News aired a report suggesting that Senator Moseley-Braun may have converted campaign funds to personal use, and failed to pay taxes on those funds. According to the transcript of that report,

We request that the Ethics Committee review this news report, as well as other relevant evidence, to determine whether Senator Moseley-Braun violated federal laws regarding the personal use of campaign funds, federal tax laws, and Senate Rules.

Congressional candidates are prohibited from converting campaign funds to personal use. Federal law states that:

The IRS has ruled that conversion of campaign funds to personal use may transform the funds into taxable personal income.

If Senator Moseley-Braun converted campaign funds to personal use, but failed to pay taxes on that income, she may have run afoul of the federal statute prohibiting tax evasion, which states that:

Federal law also prohibits making false statements on a tax return.

In addition, Senate Rules prohibit the conversion of campaign funds to personal use. In light of the WBBM/TV-News reports, we urge the Ethics Committee to review whether Senator Moseley-Braun has complied with the federal law and Senate Rules described above. We are not at all certain, given the lack of clarity in the personal use of campaign funds statute, that all the expenditures described in the WBBM/TV-News would necessarily have been proscribed at the time they were carried out.(8)

But that in no way resolves the tax issues involved here. Even if some of Senator Moseley-Braun's expenditures were merely a species of "mixed use" -- part personal use and part legitimate campaign use -- at some point they would likely, at least in part, be taxable income, and the IRS would likely impute them as such to Senator Moseley-Braun.

B: Request for Ethics Committee Review of Other Sections of News Reports

On July 12,WBBM/TV-News reported that:

According to tax experts polled by Roll Call, it is highly unusual for the Justice Department to reject an IRS request to authorize a grand jury.(10) Given the Justice Department's rejection of these requests, we are concerned that a full investigation of matters involving Senator Moseley-Braun has never been carried out.

Consequently, we request that the Ethics Committee review this portion of the WBBM/TV-News report, and the facts underlying it, to determine whether Senator Moseley-Braun has violated any federal law, Senate Rule, or applicable code of conduct.

C: Conclusion

The American people rely on the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to uphold the integrity of the Senate. The Ethics Committee must carry out its responsibilities with vigor and thoroughness to determine whether Senator Moseley-Braun has violated federal laws regarding the conversion of campaign funds to personal use, federal tax laws, and Senate Rules. The Ethics Committee's responsibilities in this matter are heightened given the refusal by the Justice Department to authorize a grand jury to investigate whether Senator Moseley-Braun illegally converted campaign funds to personal use, and violated criminal tax laws. This refusal has been called into question by former Justice Department officials and renowned tax experts.

The Ethics Committee bears a heavy burden with respect to this matter. We hope that it will meet the challenge, and fulfill its responsibilities to the American people.

Sincerely,
 

Gary Ruskin
Director 


Endnotes

1. S. Res. 338, Sec. 2(a)(1).

2. Carol Marin, transcript of news broadcast. WBBM/TV-News, 12 July 1998. Attachment #1 also includes Carol Marin, transcript of news broadcast. WBBM/TV-News, 13 July 1998. Mary Jacoby, "FEC Questioned Personal Expenses from 1992 Campaign." Roll Call, 16 July 1998. Mike Dorning and Marla Donato, "Federal Prosecutors Rejected IRS Probe of Moseley-Braun in '95." Chicago Tribune, 13 July 1998. Lynn Sweet, "IRS Request for Probe of Senator Was Denied." Chicago Sun-Times, 13 July 1998. "Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun Learns of 1995 IRS Investigation." Associated Press, 13 July 1998.

3. 2 U.S.C. § 439a.

4. Rev. Proc. 68-19, 1968-1 C.B. 810, Section 2. See also Rev. Rul. 74-23, 1974-1 C.B. 17.

5. 26 U.S.C. § 7201.

6. 26 U.S.C. § 7206.

7. Senate Rule 38.2.

8. Effective April 5, 1995, the Federal Election Commission promulgated new regulations regarding the personal use of campaign funds which implemented and clarified portions of the statute regarding personal use. See 11 C.F.R. Parts 100, 104 and 113. 60 F.R. 17193.

9. Carol Marin, transcript of news broadcast. WBBM/TV-News, 12 July 1998.

10. Damon Chappie and Mary Jacoby, "Justice Department Rulings Questioned." Roll Call, 16 July 1998. See Attachment #2. See also Carol Marin, transcript of news broadcast. WBBM/TV-News, 12 July 1998.