by Paul Singer
June 5, 2013
WASHINGTON — Over the past 10 years, Rep. Luis Gutierrez has paid a Chicago lobbyist more than $500,000 in taxpayer funds to work side-by-side with his congressional staff.
Lobbyist Doug Scofield, Gutierrez's former chief of staff, can train staff, review and help draft news releases, and help "publicize programs and activities" of the congressman, among other things. He can do all that and still not be counted as a member of Gutierrez's official staff. Instead, Scofield is paid as a contractor providing "training" under a contract approved by the Committee on House Administration.
"It looks like classic Chicago cronyism," said Kathy Kiely, managing editor at the non-profit Sunlight Foundation. "It's really tantamount to a political patronage job."
In addition to his work for the Democratic congressman, Scofield has represented clients in his communication and lobbying practice, including some for whom Gutierrez has sought federal aid. Scofield is also the co-author of Gutierrez's memoir scheduled for release this fall, according to promotional materials for the book. Scofield did not respond to messages requesting comment for this story.
Gutierrez's communication director, Douglas Rivlin, told USA TODAY that Scofield's contract has been reviewed multiple times over the past decade by the administration panel and the finance office that pays House bills. They "have never had a problem with this," he said. Overall, "we are getting value for the money that we are spending."
Rivlin said, "Doug Scofield was never involved in securing any federal funding for any clients of his company, and it's important to note that contractors are allowed under house rules to have other clients and conduct other business." Nevertheless, in light of questions raised by USA TODAY, Gutierrez has asked the House Administration Committee to review the contract.
Members of the House are given annual budgets to run their offices, and each member has a cap on the number of employees they may hire. Beyond that, the administration committee rules say, "Member offices are not authorized to procure consultant services." However, "Members may contract with firms or individuals only for general, non-legislative and non-financial, office services (e.g., equipment maintenance, systems integration, data entry, staff training, photography, custodial services, web services)" for specified time periods.
Gutierrez is serving his 11th term in the House, representing the west side of Chicago, and has long been a leading advocate of pro-immigrant changes to the nation's immigration system. He is part of a bipartisan group of eight House members trying to draft a sweeping immigration bill that would increase border security and allow the nation's 11 million unauthorized immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Scofield had been Gutierrez's chief of staff until he left in 2002 to join the Illinois gubernatorial campaign of Rod Blagojevich. When Blagojevich won, Scofield took a job in the new administration but stepped down in March 2003.
Within weeks, Gutierrez began paying Scofield $5,500 per month from his congressional office account for training and "non-legislative message development," expenditure records show, and has paid him nearly every month since. The contract is clear that Scofield can engage only in non-legislative activities. In May of that year, Scofield registered as a lobbyist in Illinois.
Congressional expenditure reports showed that in 2012, the $72,000 Gutierrez paid Scofield for training was nearly five times more than any other member of Congress spent for training. All other lawmakers reported spending a combined total of $261,000 on training last year, according to a spending database maintained by the Sunlight Foundation.
Rivlin said Scofield "works with district staff on a wide range of concerns, training them to run the office and handle constituent services, management and everything else they do. He trained me and still works with me on some press issues, especially Chicago-related press and who is who, and helps draft or edit some statements and speeches."
He said Scofield and the congressman are "friends" and Scofield helps staff learn "how to write in the congressman's voice."
Rivlin said Scofield is paid by the publisher for his work on Gutierrez's memoirs, and "none of the money that is paid to him from the congressman's office is related to the book."
Committee spokesman Gregory Abbott confirmed that the contract was approved by the Administration Committee but noted, "It is not required that the committee be consulted when entering into the contract, so we would not have been aware" that Scofield was a lobbyist in Chicago.
Scofield is registered as a lobbyist with the Illinois secretary of State, representing a range of clients over the years including Mt. Sinai Hospital, the Illinois Insurance Association and the Service Employees International Union, plus numerous non-profit groups, including the Salvation Army. He has never registered as a lobbyist at the federal level.
Some of Scofield's clients received support from Gutierrez, who was still paying him.
In July 2004, Scofield's company registered a new client, a food bank called the Greater Chicago Food Depository. A year later, the food depository announced in a news release that Gutierrez would observe National Hunger Awareness Day by handing out fruits and vegetables from the group's new "Producemobile." The news release noted, "Earlier this year, the congressman was instrumental in helping to secure $539,500 in federal funds that will help the Food Depository increase and enhance programs and services."
At the time, Gutierrez was paying Scofield $4,500 from his congressional office each month.
Rivlin said there was nothing inappropriate about Scofield working for both the food bank and the congressman.
"I don't think it took a lot of convincing to get Congressman Gutierrez interested in food aid to Chicago," Rivlin said. "It's not as if Scofield would have to lobby the congressman." Rivlin provided documents indicating that another local congressman, then-representative Bill Lipinski, took a more prominent role than Gutierrez in requesting the funds for the food bank. Rivlin said, "This leads me to strongly believe that it is extraordinarily unlikely that Doug Scofield and the congressman ever spoke about the proposed appropriation."
In 2010, Gutierrez requested that the House Appropriations Committee earmark $620,000 for the Chicago Botanical Garden, according to his congressional website. Scofield listed the garden as a lobbying client for a few months in 2005, and it is still listed as a client on the website of his communication firm.
Scofield has also provided some campaign assistance to Gutierrez. In November 2009, Gutierrez's congressional campaign reported paying the Scofield Co. $9,329 for managing a fundraiser, and in August and September 2012, the campaign paid Scofield $12,000 in "consultant fees" for a "constituency outreach" event.
Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, said, "While not technically illegal, it is at the very least unsavory for a former staffer to be simultaneously on the payroll of a member and representing clients in his district who are requesting and gaining earmarks from the congressman. The conflict of interest is apparent."