U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls investigated over allegations he used campaign money to pay rent to his own company

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Richmond, is being investigated by his peers over allegations that he used campaign funds for his personal use, according to an Office of Congressional Ethics report released Friday.

The Ethics Committee announced it was investigating Nehls in March, but the details of the investigation were confidential. Nehls acknowledged in a statement at the time that the investigation was related to his campaign finances and said he would cooperate with the Ethics Committee.

Nehls’ campaign paid more than $25,000 in rent to a company called Liberty 1776 from 2019 to 2022, according to records with the Federal Election Commission. The company is registered to Nehls, who is listed in state records as the sole operator and proprietor. Nehl’s attorney responded that the business is in fact linked to his campaign.

The report said the Office of Congressional Ethics could not determine a legitimate campaign use for the payments to Liberty 1776. It is illegal to use campaign finances for purposes not related to running for office.

The campaign lists a different address than the company’s for its campaign headquarters, though the report notes that address does not appear to be currently used by the campaign. It was most recently an Islamic school and previously a bar, according to the report.

Liberty 1776 was registered in November 2019, according to the Texas Secretary of State — less than a month before it received the first rent payment from the campaign. The company is currently listed as inactive by the Secretary of State.

The Office of Congressional Ethics wrote and turned over the report to the House Ethics Committee in December of last year. The Ethics Committee made the report public Friday as it announced it would continue investigating the case.

In a January response to the report, an attorney for Nehls wrote that the payments to Liberty 1776 were legitimate rent payments for the campaign’s headquarters and events. The campaign set up Liberty 1776 to rent the space listed as its campaign headquarters as a limited liability company to “offer the typical liability protections important for such engagements” since the venue was expected to host large events.

The Ethics Committee is an evenly bipartisan panel of House members who investigate alleged violations of House rules and laws. U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, is the only Texan on the committee. It is separate from the Office of Congressional Ethics, which was created in 2008 to investigate ethics complaints and refer cases to the House Ethics Committee. That office is run by nonpartisan full-time staff instead of elected officials.

The Office of Congressional Ethics said it had tried to interview staff from Nehls’ campaign and Liberty 1776 before referring the case to the House Ethics Committee, but they all refused.

“The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) was created under Nancy Pelosi, which is why I refused to cooperate with the office,” Nehls said in a statement. “My books remain open, and I am cooperating with the legitimate House Committee on Ethics.”

Nehls’ attorney also wrote in the response letter that members of Nehls’ staff had responded to OCE’s inquiries by requesting more information or informing the office that they worked only for Nehls’ congressional office and were not part of the campaign staff.

The House voted on a bipartisan basis to create the Office of Congressional Ethics in 2008, though the majority of yea votes were Democrats, who introduced the resolution to create the office.

Among the staff OCE requested to interview was Thomas Datwyler, who was listed as Nehls’ campaign treasurer. Datwyler is a career campaign compliance consultant who has worked on a host of Republican campaigns, including that of disgraced former Rep. George Santos, R-New York. Santos is under federal indictment for campaign finance violations.

Nehls said in a March statement that his "campaign has complied with every Federal Election Commission (FEC) law, and my books are open.”

Disclosure: Texas Secretary of State has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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