July 20, 2024

Mooney legal fund accepts donation from company at center of ethics probe | News, Sports, Jobs

Rep. Alex Mooney speaks at a political rally in July in Huntington. (File Photo)

WASHINGTON — The legal defense fund for U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney accepted a donation from the same company congressional ethics investigators allege paid for a vacation for Mooney and his family to Aruba and other gifts.
According to documents available only by in-person review at the Legislative Resources Center in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building, Mooney’s legal defense fund accepted a $5,000 donation from HSP Direct, a direct-mail company the Mooney campaign began using for mailers in 2020.
Mooney, R-W,Va, set up the legal defense fund in December 2021 with the approval of the House Ethics Committee. More than $136,000 was transferred to the legal defense fund and used to reimburse Mooney’s federal campaign account.
“Congressman Mooney is complying with all the required rules and disclosures for his legal defense fund,” said Mooney spokesperson Ryan Kelly in a statement Wednesday.
House members are allowed to set up legal defense funds to cover legal expenses that occur during their time in office. The funds can only be used to reimburse legal expenses for House members and current or former staff members.
Legal defense funds cannot accept more than $5,000 per calendar year from the same donor or organization. It cannot accept donations from registered lobbyists, lobbying firms, or foreign entities. Mooney’s legal defense fund has raised $64,000 between Jan. 1, 2022, and June 30 of this year, spending $12,190, including two $5,000 reimbursements paid to the Mooney campaign.
HSP Direct and its relationship with Mooney played a central role in a second report by the Office of Congressional Ethics released in May 2022 that spurred an ongoing investigation by the House Ethics Committee. That case has yet to be resolved.
OCE investigators accused Mooney of accepting a week-long vacation with his wife and children to the Caribbean island of Aruba on behalf of HSP Direct. According to an estimate by OCE, the Mooney family’s Aruba trip paid for by HSP cost more than $10,000 and included chartered air travel to the island, transportation to and from the airport, group meals and banquets, poolside cabanas, Jeep tours, and more.
Investigators believe the trip likely cost more, as the value of drinks and meals was unknown, though HSP paid more than $92,000 for banquets during the trip. During the investigation, OCE was told by the legal counsel for HSP that Mooney only reimbursed HSP $1,637.75 for the cost of the flight, though the flight cost more than $3,300. Mooney has since claimed he reimbursed HSP Direct for the entire cost of the trip.
OCE investigators also uncovered use of a house near Capitol Hill co-owned by HSP partner and chairman Jamie Hogan and HSP’s founding partners that Mooney and his family used for official congressional and campaign business and as a venue for events. The report stated Mooney did not cooperate with a review of his use of the HSP house. Investigators allege a connection between Mooney’s use of HSP as a vendor and HSP paying for his Aruba vacation and use of their Capitol Hill house.
According to testimony from the company’s legal counsel to investigators, Mooney was friends with Hogan for more than 20 years. Hogan, his wife, and HSP Direct executives were donors to Mooney’s House re-election campaigns. Mooney’s campaign benefited from more than $17,000 in donations from HSP’s political action committee since taking office in 2015, with Hogan and his wife contributing more than $28,000 to Mooney’s House campaign coffers since 2016. Mooney’s U.S. Senate campaign has already received $10,600 from HSP Direct executives and the spouse of Hogan.
Just between September 2021 and the end of 2022 — when Mooney decided to run for new northern 2nd Congressional District, defeated former 1st District Congressman David McKinley in the May 2022 Republican primary, won the November 2022 general election, and quickly announced his campaign for U.S Senate — the Mooney campaign spent nearly $21,000 with HSP Direct on marketing and direct mail costs.
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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