Watchdog seeks probe of campaign spending by Mississippi’s Rep. Palazzo

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WASHINGTON — A watchdog group is asking the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate Rep. Steven M. Palazzo over spending more than $180,000 in campaign funds to rent a farm he owns and pay an accounting firm that he founded and is now run by his ex-wife.

From 2018 to 2019, the Mississippi Republican’s campaign account, Palazzo for Congress, paid $60,000 in rent to his farm, Greene Acres LLC, according to complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center. The farm is in Perkinston, Miss., a rural location more than 30 miles away from his campaign committee address in Gulfport, where Palazzo lives.

Under House Rules, members of Congress may lease property to their campaigns, but there must be a bona fide campaign need for the space and the campaign must not pay more than fair market value.

“The public record establishes that Representative Palazzo did not use the property for the 2020 primary campaign even though FEC reports beginning in December 2018 described the rent as for ‘2020 primary’ use,” the Campaign Legal Center’s complaint says.

The complaint also says that at $3,000 a month, “Palazzo for Congress has paid more for rent over the same period than the three other members of the Mississippi House delegation combined.”

The watchdog group said Republican Rep. Michael Guest reported $13,100 in rent since 2017, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson paid $37,500 in rent over the last two election cycles, and Republican Rep. Trent Kelly did not appear to have paid any rent this election cycle.

Palazzo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since 2011, Palazzo’s campaign committee also simultaneously paid two firms for accounting services, the complaint said. Payments of $127,933 went to Palazzo & Company LLC, which he founded in 2001. When Palazzo joined Congress in 2011, he transferred ownership of the company to his wife, Lisa Palazzo, who is not a certified public accountant. She is currently the owner and CEO of the firm. They divorced in 2016, according to the Huffington Post.

The other firm Breazeale, Saunders & O’Neil, Ltd., was co-founded in 1981 by Paul V. Breazeale, who is Palazzo’s campaign committee treasurer. That Jackson-based firm received $76,954 in accounting fees and services since 2010.

If the family member of a lawmaker wants to sell services to the member’s campaign, there has to be a bona fide campaign need for them and the campaign cannot be charged more than fair market value.

Neither the Office of Congressional Ethics nor the House Ethics Committee responded to requests for comment. The office can investigate public complaints and make recommendations to the committee, which has the power to punish members, up to recommending expulsion to the full House, if it finds violations.

The author of the complaint for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that advocates for ethics and transparency, was Kedric Payne, who previously served as deputy chief counsel for the Office of Congressional Ethics.

“It is more important now than ever that our public officials put the public over their personal interest,” Payne said. “This appears to be another example of a member of Congress misprioritizing the public interest.”


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