(John Haughey) – U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, is among 14 House Democrats and one Republican named in an ethics complaint filed Thursday with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) alleging they proposed a “quid pro quo arrangement” with a Las Vegas casino executive.
According to the complaint filed by the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust [FACT], the 15 Congressional representatives signed a letter to Red Rock Resorts Chairman/CEO Frank Fertitta III urging him to allow employees to “form a union and collectively bargain.”
The May 16 letter, included in the complaint, references “an unrelated, pending bill” that would change a provision of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) governing building improvements that Red Rock Resorts sought in a request to Congress.
The representatives’ letter states: “In December 2018, Red Rock Resorts had a net revenue of $1.68 billion, and your company is currently completing a $690 million renovation of the Palms Casino Hotel in Las Vegas. In December, Red Rock signed a letter to Congress asking to change a provision of the 2017 Tax Cuts & Job Acts (TCJA) that relates to how the tax law treats building improvements for qualified investment properties.
“Each of us,” the letter continues, “has spoken out loudly and frequently about significant problems with the TCJA, and we believe that all the parties adversely affected by the bill deserve a chance to make their voices heard. We also believe that employees at your facilities deserve a chance to make their voices heard.”
FACT maintains the reference to changing the TCJA provision in the context of allowing the casino’s workers to organize a collective bargaining unit offers a favor in exchange for doing as they ask.
“This is a clear case of members of Congress using pending legislation before the House to attempt to coerce a private citizen’s behavior,” FACT Executive Director Kendra Arnold said in the letter to OCE Chief Counsel Omar Ashmany. “Because the pending legislation invoked had absolutely nothing to do with the members’ ask, the purpose of the letter was clear and should have never been sent.”
FACT, a Washington, DC-based, conservative-funded watchdog that describes itself as a non-profit “dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency in government and civic arenas,” cites House ethics rules in claiming the letter’s “ask” is an “implied quid pro quo.”
“In the present case, the House members seemingly sought to coerce a private citizen’s behavior by linking their request with pending legislation before the House,” the complaint states. “The members identified and requested specific action from Fertitta, as well as referenced pending legislation that would financially benefit Fertitta’s private company. The only reason for this connection was to use the legislation to coerce a citizen to act as the members requested.”
The complaint adds that “just the implication of this threat alone is enough to breach ethics rules, regardless of whether the members follow through with their threat.”
In addition to Soto, the other representatives who signed the letter are Democrats Mark Pocan of Wisconsin; Alan Lowenthal, Barbara Lee and Linda Sanchez of California; Steven Horsford, Susie Lee and Dina Titus of Nevada; Jan Schakowsky of Illinois; Eleanor Holmes Norton, a District of Columbia delegate; Brendan F. Boyle of Pennsylvania; and Bonnie Watson Coleman, Bill Pascrell, Jr., and Donald Norcross of New Jersey. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania was the lone Republican signatory.
All 15 have denied the request in their letter constitutes a quid pro quo ethical violation of Congressional rules.
Pocan, the lead signatory, responded Thursday on behalf of the representatives.
“The May 16th letter that [FACT] referenced simply asked Mr. Fertitta and Red Rock Resorts to comply with the law and respect the applicable labor protections,” he said in a statement. “The OCE complaint is a baseless allegation – there was no quid pro quo.”
“The letter at issue complied with ethics rules as stated in Rep. Pocan’s response,” Soto added in his own statement Thursday. “We will continue to stand up for American workers and encourage all stakeholders to come to the table to negotiate.”
The OCE is an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against House members, officers and staff.
There are two stages in OCE’s investigative review process, a preliminary review and a second-phase review. Both must be authorized by OCE’s eight-member board of directors.
The preliminary review is limited to 30 days, during which the OCE staff investigates if a violation may have occurred. The second-phase review is initially limited to 45 days with the option for the board to extend it by an additional 14 days.