Over the past 10 years, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., 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, though he is not a member of Gutierrez's official staff. Instead, he 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 of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit that advocates for government transparency. "It's really tantamount to a political patronage job."
Scofield also has a communication and lobbying practice, and Gutierrez has sought federal aid for some of his clients. Scofield did not respond to messages requesting comment.
Gutierrez said in a statement Wednesday: "The House Administration Committee reviewed and approved the contract with Scofield Company that was first established in 2003. That same contract has been renewed at the beginning of each new Congress, as the rules require."
Nevertheless, he has asked the committee to review it again, and said: "I will follow their guidance and make any change they recommend to our contract with Scofield Company. I do not want to create even the impression of impropriety or the appearance of a conflict of interest with any contractor my office uses."
Gutierrez's communications director, Douglas Rivlin, told USA TODAY that 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."
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, they can hire contractors for various services.
Gutierrez is serving his 11th term in the House, representing the west side of Chicago, and has long advocated pro-immigrant changes to the nation's immigration system.
Scofield was 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.
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.
In 2012, Gutierrez paid Scofield $72,000 for training, while all other lawmakers reported spending a total of $261,000 on training, 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 ... and helps draft or edit some statements and speeches."
Scofield is also co-author of Gutierrez's memoirs, due out this fall, but Rivlin said "none of the money that is paid to him from the congressman's office is related to the book."
Scofield has represented a range of clients over the years including Mount Sinai Hospital, the Illinois Insurance Association and the Service Employees International Union, plus numerous non-profits, including the Salvation Army. He has never registered as a lobbyist at the federal level.
In July 2004, Scofield's company registered a client called the Greater Chicago Food Depository. A year later, the food depository announced 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," he said. "It's not as if Scofield would have to lobby the congressman."
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