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Gaetz denies wrongdoing in $28,000 expenditures

Jim Little
Pensacola News Journal
Northwest Florida Daily News

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz is defending allegations of wrongdoing involving more than $28,000 in payments from his congressional office that appear to violate House rules.

The Republican congressman for the Florida Panhandle is under fire after Politico reported that his office made $28,000 in payments to a Wyoming-based company called Presidential Communications and Strategy LLC for a consultant in violation of House rules. Gaetz also potentially violated rules on accepting gifts by allowing a TV studio to be set up at his father's house in Niceville.

The payments came from Gaetz's Member's Representational Allowance, which is a government fund for each member of Congress to run their office and pay staff.

The Wyoming Secretary of State office shows Presidential Communications and Strategy LLC is registered to Registered Agents Inc., a company that advertises keeping identities of business owners private.

Politico reported the company is connected to Darren Beattie, a former White House aide who was forced out his job after appearing at a convention that promotes speakers with white supremacist views. Politico cited "multiple sources familiar with the arrangement" for the connection between Beattie and the Wyoming company.

Gaetz announced in 2019 that he was hiring Beattie as a special adviser for speechwriting.

A written statement to the News Journal from Gaetz's office denied any wrongdoing and called the Politico report "disappointing," saying the controversy was because of a clerical error.

"Although the contractual arrangement was approved by the necessary House authorities, a second review by the Finance Office determined that the services could not be contracted for in exactly that fashion, and our office is currently working through the best way to proceed with both Finance and the House Ethics Committee," the statement said.

"The funds were all immediately returned to the House as soon as the review determined this was not the right way to structure this. This is nothing more than a glorified clerical error — and while it is baffling that Politico should find this newsworthy — it is disappointing Politico plots to demean individuals who’ve made an innocent clerical mistake and are working to correct it."

An ethics review spawned by another Politico report on Gaetz was dropped this month. The report raised questions about his lease at Seville Tower in Pensacola for an office at below-market rates from longtime friend and donor Collier Merrill.

The statement from Gaetz's office on Wednesday confirmed that the congressman paid $100 a month from his office fund to rent a camera to "communicate with constituents and the nation" for the TV studio in Niceville.

The statement from Gaetz's office said the arrangement complied with House rules.

"The hard costs for the studio in Niceville were paid by a private company, which then charges media companies per uplink to the camera – the same as any studio anywhere in the nation for any member of Congress," the statement said. "Congressman Gaetz is not involved in these transactions. Our office consulted with the House Ethics Committee and the House Administration Committee throughout the entire setup process for guidance on how to maintain compliance with House rules, which we have done."

Jim Little can be reached at jwlittle@pnj.com and 850-208-9827.