Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., used thousands of dollars from donors to pay for rent and utility bills in violation of campaign finance laws, according to a new Federal Election Commission filing.
Boebert, who has a track record of failing to follow FEC disclosure rules, came under the agency's scrutiny last month after filing a campaign finance report listing more than $6,000 in Venmo payments in May and June with the description "personal expense of Lauren Boebert billed to campaign account in error. Expense has been reimbursed." The FEC sent a letter to the campaign asking for further explanation.
The campaign on Tuesday submitted an amended filing for the quarter listing two $2,000 payments as "Rent billed to campaign via Venmo in error" and two $1,325 payments for "rent/utilities." The campaign also added payments with the same amount, dates and descriptions to John Pacheco, whose listed address is the same as Shooters Grill in Rifle, Colorado, the restaurant Boebert owns.
The FEC warned in August that Boebert could potentially face punitive action over the payments.
"If it is determined that the disbursement(s) constitutes the personal use of campaign funds, the Commission may consider taking further legal action," the letter said. "However, prompt action to obtain reimbursement of the funds in question will be taken into consideration."
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The campaign said in a letter on Tuesday that the funds have already been reimbursed and will appear on the next quarter's report, which is due next month.
Former Democratic congressional aide Colin Strother said that Boebert is still likely to face an FEC investigation even if she reimbursed the money. "This is super illegal," he wrote on Twitter. "Her chief of staff should have known this." Capitol Hill reporter Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News agreed that Boebert's actions were "very, very problematic." Former Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., pleaded guilty in 2019 to using campaign funds for personal expenses, though he did not reimburse the campaign and falsified FEC records to hide the expenses.
Boebert's campaign finance filings have repeatedly raised red flags since she ran for office last year. Accountable.US, a progressive government watchdog group, last year filed a formal complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics, and the nonprofit government watchdog group Campaign for Accountability filed an FEC complaint, after Boebert paid herself more than $21,000 in mileage reimbursements from her campaign account. An analysis by the Denver Post found that Boebert would have had to drive 38,712 miles (more than the circumference of the planet) and in fact she held no campaign events in March, April or July and only one in May, during a period of the pandemic when travel was limited. The campaign later filed an amended report claiming that the reimbursement included mileage, travel expenses and hotel rooms, though it still listed $17,280 in mileage reimbursements.
A separate analysis by Colorado Public Radio found that it was possible Boebert could have driven about 30,000 miles to 129 campaign events. The campaign told the outlet that Boebert had "traveled to every nook and cranny of the district to speak with and hear from the people about their concerns."
During her campaign for Congress, Boebert paid off nearly $19,000 in state tax liens that her restaurant had accrued since 2016 for unpaid unemployment insurance premiums, making the final payments just days before her election.
"Rep. Boebert's mileage claim doesn't pass the smell test," Michelle Kuppersmith, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, told HuffPost. "It's also quite a coincidence that the amount she reimbursed herself is just a little more than the $19,000 in liens she repaid in October 2020."
Boebert, who sits on the House Natural Resources Committee, also failed to disclose that her husband earned more than $900,000 between 2019 and 2020 working for an energy firm, the Associated Press reported last month. The first-term congresswoman did not report the earnings during her campaign but ultimately included them on a financial disclosure form filed in August.
Former Democratic state Rep. Bri Buentello filed a formal complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics alleging that the payments may amount to bribery because the salary was "inconsistent" with her husband's qualifications and standard compensation, citing data showing that oil and gas workers in similar positions earn less than $174,000. Buentello questioned whether "this compensation was made in exchange for actions taken by Rep. Lauren Boebert since being sworn into Congress in January," including her bill aiming to reverse President Joe Biden's temporary ban on oil and gas leasing on federal land and the revocation of the Keystone XL pipeline, "which would have materially benefited" the firm her husband worked for.
Boebert spokesman Jake Settle dismissed the complaint as a "waste of everyone's time" and said the congresswoman "exceeded her FEC disclosure requirements in the name of full transparency and to avoid any semblance of impropriety."
"She has been clear since the day she announced a run for Congress that both she and her husband have worked in the oil and natural gas industry and were supportive of efforts to increase production and expand pipeline development," he told Colorado Politics. "The constant string of left wing attacks from political hacks are without merit."
The FEC previously said that Boebert also failed to report her fundraising ties to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. FEC records reviewed by Salon's Zachary Petrizzo last month showed that Boebert's campaign spent $2.6 million last election cycle but only made 147 payments to 32 recipients, 40 of those payments for Uber rides around the time that Boebert attended a "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington, D.C.
Boebert in February pushed back on the criticism about her campaign disclosures after the mileage reimbursements were first reported.
"They want to come against me for legitimate expenses, go ahead," she told the Colorado Times Recorder. "I am doing the work of the people. I had to make those connections. And really, I under-reported a lot of stuff."