U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn is continuing to face scrutiny with a report from the Office of Congressional Ethics detailing possible violations tied to spending on taxpayer-funded constituent mailings and an allegation involving campaign office space.
The report, sent to the House Committee on Ethics earlier this year but made public Thursday, said it had "uncovered evidence that shows Rep. Hagedorn knew or should have known that there were irregularities in his franked mail practices, including unusually high spending, above fair market prices, and potential financial conflicts of interest" involving two staffers in his office at the time.
The companies linked to the staffers were found to have been paid a total of around $453,000 by Hagedorn's office starting in 2019 to April of last year, according to the report.
The ethics office's board also found "there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Hagedorn used official funds to contract for services with companies owned or controlled by his staff members."
A joint statement from the bipartisan leaders of the House ethics committee that came with the report's public release said "the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee."
The report on Hagedorn was one of four released publicly Thursday. The other three also involved House members, a Democrat and two Republicans.
The latest development comes after Hagedorn, who represents southern Minnesota, weathered controversies on his way to winning re-election last November.
While heading into a competitive election, his congressional office invested heavily in taxpayer-funded mailings in the first three months of last year. The outsized spending raised red flags for Democrats, especially after it was discovered that work went to separate companies with apparent connections to the two staffers. The controversy brought about the dismissal of Hagedorn's then-chief of staff and prompted an internal review of the matter, which was sent to the House ethics committee where a review of Hagedorn is ongoing.
The House committee and the congressional ethics office are separate entities, but the office can send reports to the lawmaker-run panel as it did in Hagedorn's case. The office's report noted that the findings are not "a determination of whether or not a violation actually occurred."
Elliot Berke, Hagedorn's attorney, said in a statement after the report's release that "from the moment he learned of the franking issues in his office, Congressman Hagedorn acted in a responsible and transparent manner."
"He self-reported the matter to the Ethics Committee and will continue to work with it to bring it to a conclusion. Moreover, he had no knowledge of the underlying issues and has acted in good faith throughout," Berke said.
The ethics office said it had looked into concerns raised in a Politico story last year "detailing the allegedly impermissible use of the campaign office space" from a political donor. The office found "substantial reason to believe that Rep. Hagedorn's campaign committee used private office space at no cost or for a rate below fair market value."
Berke countered in a statement that "leftist groups targeted Congressman Hagedorn by filing frivolous complaints with the FEC. We stand ready to answer any questions the [Federal Election Commission] or the Ethics Committee might have to refute this baseless allegation."
The ethics office wrote in the report that their look into the mailings controversy "was significantly hampered by Rep. Hagedorn's refusal to cooperate" with their review, and recommended the committee issue subpoenas to Hagedorn and others.
Berke pointed out in a letter to the House committee in August that Hagedorn had self-reported the mailing allegation to the panel of lawmakers last year and "will continue to answer any questions the Committee might have with respect to this matter," as well as comment on "material misstatements" made to the ethics office and "unfounded conclusions" it reached.
Berke criticized the ethics office, writing that it "decided to waste taxpayer resources" on the mailings allegation despite the self-reporting from Hagedorn. According to its website, the ethics office is an independent and nonpartisan body that can review misconduct allegations.
Hagedorn, in his second term in Congress, is married to Jennifer Carnahan, the former state GOP chair who was forced out amid controversy earlier this year. After announcing a stage 4 kidney cancer diagnosis during his first term, Hagedorn said earlier this year that his cancer had returned.
Staff writers Briana Bierschbach and Patrick Condon contributed to this story.
Hunter Woodall • 612-673-4559