BOSTON — U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton is among several lawmakers hit with an ethics complaint by a watchdog group, which is calling for an investigation into whether they violated House rules by spending campaign funds on travel, lavish hotels and sporting events.
The complaint filed Wednesday by the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center alleges that Moulton, D-Salem, may have broken ethics rules by improperly spending a majority of the money collected by his leadership political action committee, Serve America PAC, for personal use.
“Rep. Moulton’s leadership PAC spent money on travel at hotels that appear to be vacations,” the group wrote in a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics outlining the complaint. “As a result, these expenses are considered personal use unless Rep. Moulton provides verification that these were bona fide campaign or political expenses.”
Besides Moulton, the ethics complaint names Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania, and Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, who also are accused of improper spending by their leadership PACs.
Each of the lawmakers spent less than 25% of their leadership PAC funds on political activity during the 2020 election cycle, according to the complaint.
“The law is clear that campaign funds cannot be used for personal use. When voters see thousands of campaign dollars spent on resort traveling and entertainment, they question whether the law is enforced,” Kedric Payne, the group’s general counsel and senior director of ethics, said in a statement.
“Many leadership PACs look like slush funds, and that diminishes the public’s trust in our campaign finance system,” he added.
Details of the complaint were outlined in the previous report by the center, which found that Moulton only spent about 8% of his campaign funds on politics.
The report, which looked at spending by leadership PAC’s over a two month period, states that while some of $1.7 million Moulton spent during that period went toward consultants, salaries, and administrative expenses, his leadership PAC also “footed sizable bills for transportation, lodging, and meals.”
For example, Moulton’s leadership PAC spent $9,200 on airfare and $6,800 on lodging at Airbnb and other hotels, including $540 at the posh Canopy by Hilton in Washington, D.C., according to the report.
Moulton’s campaign dismissed the complaint and said the report paints an inaccurate picture of the Serve America PAC’s campaign activity because it measures the spending in percentages.
“Measuring the PAC by percentages is inaccurate. In our work, we drive our network of donors directly to candidates,” Moulton said in a statement. “That shows up as operating expenses for the PAC, because it takes a team and travel and events to do it, but the results of the work do not flow through our accounts.”
He said the tactic helped drum up hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect Democratic President Joe Biden last year and tip control of the Senate to Democrats “all while Serve America served as a destination for donors who wanted to invest in the most important races and highest-quality candidates in congress.”
“Our staff facilitated relationships between donors and candidates rather than asking them to cut a check to Serve America that was then sent to campaigns,” Moulton said.
Moulton, who won a fourth term in Congress in the 2020 elections, created the Serve America PAC in 2014 to help recruit veterans to run for elected office and support Democrats running for re-election in competitive districts.
In the 2020 election cycle, the Serve America PAC raised more than $1.1 million and spent $1.4 million, leaving about $200,000 in the campaign account, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Leadership PACs can accept donations of up to $5,000 from each individual donor a year. They also can accept money from other political action committees, but are subject to Federal Election Committee limits on campaign spending.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.