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Ethics probe dropped on Reed’s use of campaign funds to pay tax bill

WASHINGTON – The Office of Congressional Ethics has ended its preliminary review of a 2011 incident in which Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, inadvertently paid a personal tax bill with campaign funds.

The nonpartisan investigative office informed Reed that it had ended the probe in an Oct. 25 letter, but officials from the investigative office could not be reached to comment late Tuesday about why they terminated the inquiry.

“We are pleased that the Office of Congressional Ethics so quickly dismissed this matter,” said Seth Wimer, campaign spokesman for Reed. “The congressman is committed to transparency and accountability, and he will continue to be accessible to his constituents.”

The probe stemmed from an April 2012 incident in which Reed paid a $4,247.83 tax bill on his family vacation home on Keuka Lake using a check from his campaign account, which is against federal election law as well as House rules.

The congressman quickly corrected the error and reported it on his June 2012 campaign finance disclosure form, while filing a memo with the Federal Election Commission explaining his mistake. Reed said he kept campaign checks and personal checks in the same folder at the time, and accidently used the wrong check to pay the tax bill.

John Hurley, chairman of the Ontario County Democratic Committee, filed a complaint about the incident with the Office of Congressional Ethics, as well as a complaint with the FEC that is still pending.

Despite the ethics office’s decision to terminate the probe – in essence, an admission that investigators did not think the complaint was serious enough to pursue further – Democrats continued to hammer Reed over the error. The revelation about Reed’s mistake followed a Buffalo News report that he had been late in paying his property taxes 38 times since 2005.

“The fact remains that Congressman Tom Reed improperly used campaign funds to pay one of his 38 late tax bills,” said Marc Brumer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Whether or not Congressman Reed’s improper late tax payment was malicious doesn’t change the fact that it was completely irresponsible and raises serious questions about Congressman Reed’s ability to manage millions of taxpayer dollars.”

Reed is expected to face a stiff Democratic challenge in 2014 from Martha Robertson, chairwoman of the Tompkins County Legislature.

That campaign has already been marked by furious ethical disputes, with Democrats focusing on Reed’s tax issues and Republicans hitting Robertson over a fundraiser she held with Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul and Mary, who pleaded guilty in 1970 to a charge of “taking indecent liberties” with a child.

In addition, the two campaigns have been engaged in a battle over a problem that Robertson’s website experienced in late September.

After Robertson sent out an email accusing Republican operatives of trying to shut down the site, Reed’s campaign said Robertson’s email allegation possibly amounted to mail fraud.