More on Scaglia

Roll Call’s Paul Singer has another interesting article today on Phil Scaglia, who serves as Representative Cleaver’s chief of staff while operating a lobbying business in his spare time.  The article reveals that Scaglia’s business also received payments from the Cleaver campaign and that one of Scaglia’s private clients both rented office space to the campaign and made an in-kind contribution to the campaign.  More importantly, the article indicates that the “approval” that Scaglia received from the House Ethics Committee for his various activities was only verbal. 

 The fact that Scaglia performed paid campaign work is not, in and of itself, a problem under the ethics rules.  The House Ethics Committee states that “[o]nce House employees have completed their official duties, they are free to engage in campaign activities on their own time, as volunteers or for pay, as long as they do not do so in congressional offices or facilities, or otherwise use official resources.”  Unlike conducting a private lobbying business, working on the campaign of one’s employing Member does not present a conflict of interest. 

However, it is improper for congressional staff to use for campaign purposes time that should be spent on congressional duties.  Thus the House Ethics Committee advises that “[e]mployees who do campaign work while remaining on the House payroll should keep careful records of the time they spend on official activities and, separately, on campaign activities, and demonstrate that campaign work was not done on official time.”  (Whether employees generally follow this admonition, however, is another matter). 

In Scaglia’s case, this would seem to be a particular concern because he is both operating a private business and acting as Cleaver’s campaign manager, in addition to having a full-time congressional job.  The article suggests that Scaglia may have earned more than $100,000 from his campaign work alone last year.  Perhaps he just doesn’t sleep, but there is a reasonable basis to wonder whether the taxpayers are getting short-changed in this arrangement.

With regard to the campaign’s dealings with one of Scaglia’s clients, it is not clear that this raises any concerns beyond those identified in my prior posts on his lobbying business. The fact that Scaglia’s client has a (fairly minor) business relationship with Cleaver’s campaign could pose a conflict of interest with regard to Scaglia’s campaign duties, but doesn’t directly implicate his congressional duties. Nor is the fact that the client contributed to Cleaver’s campaign necessarily a problem. Of course, if the client is lobbying Cleaver on any issue (even if Scaglia is not personally involved), this raises the conflict of interest concerns that I discussed in earlier posts.

Although Cleaver’s spokesman had previously claimed that Scaglia’s business arrangements had been “cleared” by the House Ethics Committee, the latest article notes that there is no written opinion from the committee. That makes the spokesman’s claim virtually meaningless. Although the committee staff can provide informal verbal guidance, only written opinions are actually binding on the committee. In the absence of anything in writing, it is impossible to know what was disclosed to committee staff and therefore what, if anything, the staff “cleared.”

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