A nonprofit group said today it is filing an ethics complaint against U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) over how he and other House Republican leaders plan to pay for litigation over the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
The ethics complaint is the latest volley in a fight that began in February when President Barack Obama instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the law. House Republicans took up the role, which could involve 11 or more cases in federal courts, and they hired former solicitor general Paul Clement as their lead counsel.
The complaint, which comes from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, alleges that the $500,000 contract hiring Clement violates federal law because it obligates the House General Counsel’s Office for more money than it’s supposed to receive under its latest appropriation. The Antideficiency Act prohibits obligations in excess of appropriations.
“As Speaker Boehner vocally and vociferously has called for a new era of government fiscal austerity, it is even more egregious for him to have violated federal laws designed to prevent the government from overspending,” reads the conclusion of the 12-page complaint. CREW’s executive director, Melanie Sloan, signed the complaint, and it’s addressed to the Office of Congressional Ethics.
A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel, immediately dismissed the possibility of an ethics violation. “This ‘complaint’ is off-base and stupid to the point that it creates the appearance of partisanship by CREW,” Steel said in an e-mailed statement.
CREW is known most recently for having filed the initial complaint against former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), eventually leading to Ensign’s resignation, but it has filed ethics complaints against Democrats and Republicans.
On the question of overspending, Steel said the “‘anti-deficiency act’ has nothing to do with this situation, as anyone with a basic grasp of the law knows.” At a hearing last month on the subject, House General Counsel Kerry Kirchner told lawmakers that he expects his office to receive sufficient money through the “reprogramming” of other funds from the House’s $1.4 billion budget.
Boehner has said that he wants the cost of defending the Defense of Marriage Act subtracted from the Justice Department’s budget. That idea has met resistance from Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. because there is no specific item in DOJ’s budget for the litigation, but Steel said Boehner still expects the House to recoup its money from the department.