House Ethics Committee clears Trahan of campaign violations

Probe finds rep used personal funds for campaign; broke no laws

US Congresswoman Lori Trahan addresses the crowd during a visit to the Waltham-based robot-developing company QinetiQ’s ribbon cutting ceremony at their new facility on Devens last year. Trahan was cleared of campaign finance violations by the Ethics Committee on Wednesday. SUN/JOHN LOVE
US Congresswoman Lori Trahan addresses the crowd during a visit to the Waltham-based robot-developing company QinetiQ’s ribbon cutting ceremony at their new facility on Devens last year. Trahan was cleared of campaign finance violations by the Ethics Committee on Wednesday. SUN/JOHN LOVE
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LOWELL — Over a year and more than $380,000 later, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan has been cleared of campaign finance allegations by the House Committee on Ethics.

The committee, made up of nine members from both parties, ended more than a year of questions surrounding Trahan’s campaign finances during the contentious 2018 primary that she narrowly won over Dan Koh of Andover.

“The respected House Ethics Committee — made up of Democrats and Republicans — investigated this matter thoroughly and has now unanimously confirmed what I’ve always maintained: that my campaign acted ethically and that these baseless accusations were just politics,” Trahan said in a prepared statement.

At issue was a roughly $300,000 loan Trahan’s campaign received from a joint checking account Trahan has with her husband David Trahan.

Several organizations filed complaints alleging that loan was an illegal campaign contribution from David Trahan. Spouses are typically barred from contributing more than the usual limit of $5,000 to a campaign.

Trahan also took heat on the issue from Koh, now an Andover selectman who is the former top aide to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Koh lost to Trahan by just 145 votes in the 2018 primary. Koh, who didn’t return a call seeking comment Thursday afternoon, previously called on Trahan to be more open with investigators to prove she did nothing wrong.

He has also reportedly considered challenging Trahan again in part because of the campaign finance questions.

But Trahan argued in a 17-page response to the House Committee on Ethics that the funds were her personal funds because a premarital agreement signed years before with her husband made the couple’s assets jointly held.

The bipartisan committee cited the prenuptual agreement in a 29-page report published on Wednesday that says Trahan did not violate any laws or regulations.

“Representative Trahan’s prenuptial agreement with her husband established clear delineations as to the couple’s income and assets and rights to their income and assets during their marriage,” the report states. “Based on the prenuptial agreement, the Committee found that Representative Trahan’s loans to the campaign were from her personal funds, not excessive contributions from her husband, and therefore did not violate House Rules, laws, regulations or other standards of conduct.”

The report does recommend Trahan contact the Federal Elections Commission about some campaign funding disclosures that were not properly filed initially, but the report says the committee found no evidence that the mistakes were intentional.

“The committee also found no evidence that Representative Trahan’s omissions of required information or errors on her Financial Disclosure Statements and FEC reports were knowing and willful, and accordingly, did not merit further action,” the report states. “In fact, Representative Trahan’s amendments to her disclosures on her own initiative show her good faith effort to comply with the relevant disclosure requirements.”

The Committee on Ethics began a probe into the issue after the Office of Congressional Ethics found “substantial reason to believe” Trahan’s campaign accepted personal loans and contributions that exceeded federal limits, and that she failed to disclose required information in her disclosure reports or Federal Election Commission filings.

But Trahan said the OCE reached that conclusion without considering the premarital agreement, which had not been submitted to OCE since it was sent to the FEC instead.

As of earlier this year, defending against the allegations had already cost Trahan about $380,000, in part because she hired the nationally-renowned law firm Perkins Coie to represent her.

On Feb. 20, she established a Legal Expense Trust, a type of fund that allows representatives to accept donations to help them pay for legal fees connected to their candidacy, official duties, criminal prosecutions or civil matters related to the representatives fitness for office.

Trahan’s office issued a statement from the congresswoman Thursday afternoon, but said she would not be immediately available to make additional comment. A spokesman for Trahan said the Legal Expense Trust will remain open for now to help Trahan defray the expenses of defending against the ethics probe.

The committee’s full 29-page report can be read by visiting: https://ethics.house.gov/sites/ethics.house.gov/files/documents/Committee%20Report_17.pdf