Rep. Luis Gutierrez paid a Chicago lobbyist who once was his chief of staff more than $500,000 in taxpayer funds over the last decade to do work for him as a contractor, USA Today reported Wednesday.
The Illinois Democrat is said to have paid lobbyist Doug Scofield to work on various assignments including news releases and training staff.\
Scofield was Gutierrez’s chief of staff until 2002, when he left to work on the gubernatorial campaign of Rod Blagojevich. He is registered as a lobbyist with the Illinois Secretary of State.
Gutierrez’s communications director, Douglas Rivlin, told USA Today that the relationship with Scofield was completely above board and that the congressman’s office proceeded with the contract after extensive reviews by House of Representative officials.
“They have never had a problem with this," Rivlin said. "We are getting value for the money that we are spending."
Plus, he added, nobody ever raised any flags indicating impropriety or conflict of interest.
"Doug Scofield was never involved in securing any federal funding for any clients of his company, and it's important to note that contractors are allowed under house rules to have other clients and conduct other business," Rivlin said.
But he told the newspaper that now that questions have been raised, Gutierrez will take a look at the concerns.
The newspaper reported that “in light of questions raised by USA TODAY, Gutierrez has asked the House Administration Committee to review the contract.”
Some reacted with skepticism over the tight involvement of a lobbyist with Gutierrez’s office.
"It looks like classic Chicago cronyism," Kathy Kiely, managing editor at the non-profit Sunlight Foundation, told USA Today. "It's really tantamount to a political patronage job."
The newspaper said that Gutierrez far outspent other lawmakers on training.
“Congressional expenditure reports showed that in 2012, the $72,000 Gutierrez paid Scofield for training was nearly five times more than any other member of Congress spent for training,” the newspaper reported.
“All other lawmakers reported spending a combined total of $261,000 on training last year, according to a spending database maintained by the Sunlight Foundation.”
House lawmakers get funds from the chamber annually to spend on their offices, the newspaper reported, further noting: "Member offices are not authorized to procure consultant services."
But they may “contract with firms or individuals only for general, non-legislative and non-financial, office services (e.g., equipment maintenance, systems integration, data entry, staff training, photography, custodial services, web services),” the newspaper said.
Administration committee spokesman Gregory Abbott is quoted as saying that the contract was approved by the Administration Committee.
"It is not required that the committee be consulted when entering into the contract, so we would not have been aware" about Scofield’s role as a Chicago-based lobbying.
The newspaper said that some of Scofield's clients received support from Gutierrez, who was still paying him.