Ethics Committee extends investigation into Georgia congressman over use of campaign funds

The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it will extend its investigation into Rep. Sanford Bishop, a Georgia Democrat, due to evidence that his campaign had likely spent thousands of dollars on personal expenses and events in possible violation of House spending rules.

“There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Bishop converted campaign funds from Sanford Bishop for Congress to personal use, or Rep. Bishop’s campaign committee expended funds that were not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes,” the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics wrote in a corresponding report on Bishop.

Bishop is the dean of the Georgia delegation and has been in office since 1993.

The committee said in a statement that it received a referral on Bishop from the Office of Congressional Ethics on February 10, and that committee Chairman Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, and ranking member Kenny Marchant, a Texas Republican, had decided to extend the panel’s review on June 16.

The committee added that “the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”

Bishop’s office asserted that he had taken action to remedy the campaign spending issues before and in light of the review. In a statement Friday, the office wrote that Bishop “was made aware of mistakes made by his campaign and had already taken immediate action to bring it into compliance” before the review, with which he “has fully cooperated.”

Bishop has also hired a new campaign treasurer, a new compliance consultant to oversee campaign reports and lawyers to review the campaign finances, the office wrote.

“The Congressman recognizes that these mistakes should never have happened to begin with,” Bishop’s office added. “Going forth, he intends to provide better oversight to ensure errors like this never happen again.”

In its report to the committee, the Office of Congressional Ethics said it had found evidence that Bishop’s campaign committee had “likely spent tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds on fuel, golf expenses, meals, travel, tuition, and entertainment that likely were personal in nature.”

The Office of Congressional Ethics determined that Bishop’s former campaign committee treasurer, who was with him from 1993 until the fall of 2019, had misreported financial information to the Federal Election Commission for several years and “may have intentionally converted campaign funds to her personal use.” The office also discovered evidence that Bishop may have wrongly spent funds for the conduct of official representative duties to his district on four annual holiday parties for his and his wife’s staffs.

In a letter to Deutch and Marchant on Wednesday, lawyers for Bishop noted that the congressman had written personal checks to reimburse the campaign and the federal government for some of the costs in question.

During the review, “it became clear to him that while many of the expenses paid for by the Campaign were related to bona fide campaign and official activities, others were not,” the lawyers wrote, adding that “although Representative Bishop was not aware at the time, he now understands that Campaign funds should not be used to pay for memberships at country clubs.”

Bishop “is prepared to work with the Committee toward an appropriate resolution to this matter,” the lawyers wrote, adding that he “acknowledges that mistakes were made by his campaign and that he should have provided better oversight on these matters. This is a responsibility he does not take lightly, and he intends to make sure careless errors like this never happen again.”