Ethical questions continue to dog Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, this time over his use of congressional campaign funds to support his confirmation.
Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and Democracy 21 filed a complaint (PDF) Friday that Price, who served as the Republican representative for Georgia's 6th congressional district from 2005 until his confirmation as HHS secretary in 2017, used the funds in violation of a federal law, which prohibits the use of campaign funds for personal use.
“Federal law is clear that congressional campaign funds are to be used to support a run for Congress or one’s duties as a Member of Congress—not so you can land a job after Congress,” Brendan Fischer, director of CLC’s federal and FEC reform program, said in an announcement about the complaint. “The corrupting potential of campaign contributions is amplified if officeholders can use the funds for their own personal benefit.”
The nonpartisan campaign watchdog group accuses Price of having his campaign committee, Price for Congress, pay $40,000 to America Rising, which pushed research and videos to promote Price’s confirmation as his nomination was pending before the U.S. Senate. Although America Rising also promoted the confirmation of other Trump cabinet nominees, the group said only Price used campaign funds to pay the group.
“The FEC should investigate whether Secretary Price improperly used campaign funds for personal benefit by transferring funds to a group that advocated for his confirmation as Secretary,” said Donald Simon, counsel to Democracy 21, in a statement. “Price’s use of his campaign funds appears to have violated the law prohibiting the personal use of campaign funds, and the FEC should take appropriate action.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that neither a spokesman for Price at the HHS nor America Rising would comment on the story. However, a lawyer for federal ethics and campaign laws told the publication that if the payment to the group was made in exchange for promotions that urged the Senate to approve his confirmation, Price likely is in conflict with the law.
This is not the first time Price’s ethics have been questioned. Prior to his confirmation hearings, Democrats called for an ethics probe into healthcare-related stock investments that he made while a U.S. representative. They called for an investigation after reports that Price bought and sold more than $300,000 in stock in about 40 healthcare, pharmaceutical and biomedical companies since 2012 while sponsoring legislation that may have influenced those companies’ shares.
Throughout the hearings, Price held firm that his purchases were ethical, legal and above board and he saw no conflict of interest or “bad judgment” in regard to the purchases.