House ethics panel reviews 2 GOP lawmakers' campaign payments to private social clubs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Ethics Committee said Monday it was reviewing separate accusations against two Republican congressmen from Texas that allege they violated ethics rules by using campaign funds to pay membership dues at private social clubs.

The bipartisan panel released findings that Rep. Ronny Jackson's campaign committee had paid over $6,800 in membership dues to The Amarillo Club, a fine dining club and gym in downtown Amarillo. And the ethics committee also released a report on a separate probe that found Rep. Wesley Hunt's campaign had paid over $5,400 in dues to The Oak Room, a private social club in Houston.

The Ethics Committee said it will dig further into the payments, but that does not mean there are proven violations of ethics rules.

Attorneys for Hunt said in a response to the Ethics Committee that the congressman had not used the membership for personal use but instead for meetings with campaign donors and consultants. Hunt believed the Post Oak Club membership, which includes access to a meeting room, “would be a more prudent use of campaign funds” than a campaign office, his attorneys said.

Lawyers for Hunt pointed out that the Federal Election Commission allows candidates to use campaign funds for memberships in “an organization that would have political interests,” such as the Capitol Hill Club, a private Republican club that is steps from House offices, or the nearby National Democratic Club.

A spokeswoman for Jackson said the probe was based on a previous complaint from two years ago, that no new information had been raised and that his office had complied with the committee.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, which conducted the investigations, said that neither lawmaker agreed to cooperate with the reviews. The independent, non-partisan office is tasked with reviewing allegations made against members and other House staff and referring issues it finds to the House Committee on Ethics, which is comprised of lawmakers.

“This is sadly not the first time the leftists at OCE (Office of Congressional Ethics) have decided to waste taxpayer dollars going after public servants for absolutely nothing,” Jackson's office said in a statement.

Jackson has previously faced scrutiny. Before being elected to the House in 2020, he was a top White House physician under former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump and became known for his pronouncements about Trump’s health.

Trump nominated him to be the secretary of Veterans Affairs, but withdrew his nomination amid allegations of professional misconduct. An internal investigation at the Department of Defense later concluded that Jackson made “sexual and denigrating” comments about a female subordinate, violated a policy on drinking alcohol on a presidential trip and took prescription-strength sleeping medication that prompted worries from his colleagues about his ability to provide proper medical care.

Jackson has denied those allegations and described them as politically motivated.

In the matter before the Ethics Committee, Jackson's campaign had paid monthly dues of about $175 to The Amarillo Club since 2021. Starting in April last year, the campaign disclosed the monthly payments as “membership for exclusive campaign purposes,” according to the committee report.

The social club, which also has a gym and gives members access to affiliated clubs across the country, says on its website that its “members have created lasting bonds and a network of connections.”

The House ethics manual instructs lawmakers not to use campaign funds for personal use, including to enhance their lifestyles or pay personal obligations. However, it gives them wide discretion in determining what counts as a campaign or political expense.