A conservative-leaning government watchdog group has filed a complaint against U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Marietta) alleging her use early this year of free temporary office space at a Brookhaven community center violated Congressional ethics rules about accepting gifts.
The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, or FACT, filed the complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics on May 29. The complaint says that House members are not allowed to solicit a gift. If McBath is found to have violated House ethics rules, she faces the possibility of censure, reprimand or fine. A two-thirds vote by the House could also result in expulsion.
FACT alleges in the complaint that McBath asked Brookhaven officials for office space, citing a Facebook post made by Mayor John Ernst in which he stated McBath “approached” the city seeking a temporary space. In a written statement this week, Ernst denied that McBath asked for the office space but did not explain why he originally said she had.
McBath’s office did not return a request for comment.
The complaint is based on a Reporter Newspapers article revealing the deal and Ernst’s response to question about it in Facebook posts.
In February, Reporter Newspapers reported that McBath received a no-rent deal at the Lynwood Community Center in Lynwood Park for a temporary office space. The Reporter asked about the deal after receiving an anonymous email questioning whether it was legal and ethical.
City spokesperson Burke Brennan said at the time the vacant office space was provided free because there was no cost to the city. Other parts of the center are used for a wide variety of programs, many of which charge users and a pay a fee to the city. The city’s published rental rates for the Lynwood center’s community room is $35 an hour for residents and $70 an hour for non-residents.
When someone posted the Reporter Newspapers story to social media and criticized McBath, Ernst posted a response saying in part that McBath “approached” the city seeking a temporary office space. Because McBath allegedly “approached” the city asking about office space meant she violated Congress rules about members soliciting gifts, according to FACT’s complaint.
A portion of Ernst’s Facebook post from Feb. 17 included with the ethics complaint reads: “First off, facts: They approached Brookhaven because their office was not ready and need [sic] temporary space. It is under federal regulations (my understanding) that they could use local government buildings but not private. Their office was to be opened in a short time. They were in Lynwood for all of four days and were gone before this article hit or the author of the article asked the questions. They used a room, and fold out tables that were already there, and the WiFi. I am told that they maybe [sic] a half dozen coffee pods.”
At the time of the article’s publication, Brennan said McBath was still occupying the office and the deal was expected to last a few weeks.
FACT also alleges in its complaint that when Brennan told Reporter Newspapers that the decision to provide free temporary office space to McBath was in part “to build a good relationship with her” that indicated the city was providing the space to gain favor with her.
“The Mayor of Brookhaven explained that McBath ‘approached’ the City for office space, indicating she solicited the City. McBath’s solicitation put the City in the difficult position of either denying the request of their Representative or committing an ethics violation,” says FACT’s complaint.
“The City acknowledged it complied in order to gain favor with McBath. This is exactly the type of influence and favor that the solicitation ban is written to prevent,” FACT says in the complaint.
However, in a written statement provided via the city this week, Ernst denied that McBath asked the city for free temporary office space. He also said the city has a long-standing practice of offering free space rentals to local, county state and federal elected officials regardless of party affiliation “to conduct business official business for the public benefit.”
“My Facebook post clearly states that the City of Brookhaven offered the free temporary space. Congresswoman McBath’s office did not solicit the free space. The City of Brookhaven has a long standing practice of offering reasonable free space rentals to local, county, state and federal elected officials, regardless of political party affiliation, to conduct official business for the public benefit. This situation was no different; federal employees used an unoccupied office in the Lynwood Park Community Center during normal business hours for four days with minimum disruption to the City of Brookhaven’s staff and residents and with no budgetary impact,” Ernst said in the statement.
“By offering the free space, it allowed Congresswoman McBath to provide immediate constituent services to Brookhaven and other 6th district residents without administrative bottlenecks. The motivation for the arrangement was efficient governance and common courtesy,” he said.
McBath ousted Republican incumbent Karen Handel in the 6th Congressional District seat in last fall’s election and took office in January. Her permanent office in the 6th Congressional District is located in Sandy Springs.
The 6th Congressional District includes parts of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs as well as other parts of north Fulton and Cobb counties.
In March, FACT called for an IRS investigation into Fair Fight Georgia for its funding of former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ current political activities. The organization was previously headed by former U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who was appointed to the post by President Donald Trump after Jeff Sessions resigned.