WASHINGTON – A newly released ethics report raises concerns about the role of John Sample, a part-time staffer for Minnesota GOP U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, in questionable spending on taxpayer-funded constituent mail.
Hagedorn's hefty spending on constituent mailings during his first term became an issue ahead of his 2020 re-election victory. Hagedorn's congressional office spent large amounts of money on two companies, one linked to Sample and the other to the brother of Hagedorn's chief of staff at the time. Hagedorn fired then-chief of staff Peter Su.
The Office of Congressional Ethics found "there is substantial reason to believe that John Sample was involved in and benefited from the use of official funds to procure services from companies owned or controlled by congressional staff members, including himself." Reached by phone this week, Sample declined to comment.
The ethics office concentrated on Hagedorn in a report made public in October. Leaders on the U.S. House Committee on Ethics, which is separate from the congressional ethics office, said in a statement releasing the Hagedorn report that they had agreed a month earlier "to extend the Committee's review of the matter."
The recently released report from the ethics office focused on Sample, a digital media staffer who continues to work part time in Hagedorn's office, according to both the ethics report and Hagedorn's attorney.
Hagedorn and Sample did not cooperate with the ethics office about the mail situation. The ethics office recommended that both be subpoenaed by the House ethics committee.
The report describes Sample as an owner or part owner of Invocq Technologies LLC. Hagedorn's office paid Invocq around $114,000 in 2019 and 2020 during Hagedorn's first term, according to the report.
"If John Sample participated in procuring services from staff-owned companies, then John Sample may have violated House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law," the report said.
Elliot Berke, Hagedorn's attorney, said in an e-mail that the Sample report "is a regurgitation by the OCE of a 15-month inquiry that Congressman Hagedorn requested with his self-report to the Ethics Committee."
"When notified of actions undertaken without his knowledge by his staff, Congressman Hagedorn took immediate action, such as terminating the employment of his chief of staff, and augmenting office guidelines to ensure any future contracts are issued through a thorough process upon which he is briefed," Berke said. "As can be reviewed in Congressman Hagedorn's self report, John Sample cooperated fully."
Sample was suspended for a time but later returned to work, according to the ethics report.
In making the Sample report public, the House Committee on Ethics noted that a review does not mean a violation has happened. The ethics office also said in its report that the findings do not mean the office has determined whether a violation happened.
The ethics office report about Hagedorn said the office "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 with regard to Su and Sample."
In an October statement, Berke said Hagedorn "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."
Hagedorn, representing the First District that covers southern Minnesota, is serving his second term in Congress.
Staff writers Briana Bierschbach and Patrick Condon contributed to this story.