Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop of Georgia allegedly improperly spent more than $90,000 in official funds and campaign funds on personal expenses, including "fuel, golf expenses, meals, travel, tuition and entertainment," according to a newly released report from the Office of Congressional Ethics.
The independent watchdog agency said much of the total went to paying expenses at golf clubs where Bishop is a member. And more than $16,000 in congressional funds were reportedly spent at annual holiday parties at one club for the staffs of Bishop and his wife, Vivian Creighton Bishop, a Georgia municipal judge.
OCE has recommended that the House Ethics Committee launch a full-scale investigation into Bishop, who was first elected to office in 1992. The secretive panel announced on Friday that it was still reviewing the matter; there is no deadline for the Ethics Committee to act.
However, the Ethics panel's announcement triggered the public release of OCE's report, which shows an extensive pattern of alleged improper spending by Bishop over a lengthy period of time.
"The OCE determined that Rep. Bishop and his campaign committee misspent campaign funds on various personal expenses. Specifically, the OCE found evidence that the Sanford Bishop for Congress campaign committee 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 watchdog said in its report.
"The OCE also obtained evidence suggesting Rep. Bishop may have spent Members’ Representation Allowance (MRA) funds on an annual holiday celebration in violation of House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law."
Bishop's office released a statement saying that Bishop has replaced his longtime treasurer and retained the well-known Democratic law firm Perkins Coie.
Bishop's office also said he has repaid some of the funds he's alleged to have improperly misused, although it doesn't specify how much the veteran lawmaker shelled out.
"Before the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) notified him of its review, he was made aware of mistakes made by his campaign and had already taken immediate action to bring it into compliance," Bishop's office said. "Congressman Bishop has fully cooperated with the OCE’s review and proactively reimbursed many of the charges OCE identified as incorrect. He will continue to work with the Ethics Committee openly and transparently, and is prepared to take any further, necessary corrective action."
"The Congressman recognizes that these mistakes should never have happened to begin with. Going forth, he intends to provide better oversight to ensure errors like this never happen again," the statement added.
Yet OCE's findings paint a troubling picture of a lawmaker who was lax — at best — in his record-keeping for use of campaign funds. For instance, OCE found that Bishop's wife and family may have had fuel costs covered by the campaign, but none of them kept mileage logs, so it was impossible to determine what was campaign use versus personal use.
The congressman's country club fees — totaling more than $70,000 — were also paid by the campaign, with little or no records to support using those funds for that purpose.
"First, the OCE notes that Rep. Bishop did not keep records concerning who he dined or golfed with and the campaign purpose of such outings," the reports states. "Additionally, Rep. Bishop’s descriptions of the manner in which he used the golf club raised personal use concerns. Specifically, Rep. Bishop said he views his time at the club as campaign-related because it affords him the opportunity to ‘run into’ supporters and constituents and then discuss political issues over a round of golf or a meal.”
The report added: "In other words, Rep. Bishop is not holding specific fundraising events at the club; instead, he is using the club’s facilities, at least on some occasions, by himself or with his wife, and then interacting with supporters and constituents that seek him out during a round of golf or at a Sunday brunch."
The OCE report also chronicles health problems with Bishop's longtime campaign treasurer, Evelyn Turner Pugh, who is alleged to have memory loss for several years and sometimes fell asleep while preparing Federal Election Commission reports.
According to the OCE report, Charonda Huff, who eventually replaced Pugh, "also explained that Mrs. Pugh had difficulty typing, and she would often wait until the day a report was due to try and consolidate months’ worth of campaign spending. In more recent months, [Huff] described Mrs. Pugh as suffering some memory loss."
According to Huff, Bishop "was clueless and he was floored" when told about problems inside the campaign last summer.