Congressional Record

Ethics Complaint: Congressman David Schweikert's Chief of Staff Double-Dipped

A complaint filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics accuses Representative David Schweikert's top staffer of essentially pulling two salaries, putting him in violation of federal law.

Oliver Schwab has served as Schweikert's chief of staff since the Scottsdale Republican first entered Congress in 2011. As of September 2017, Schwab was making $168,411 a year in that role. Starting in 2014, he also started raking in income from Chartwell Associates, a consulting firm that he runs out of his condo in Alexandria, Virginia.

A search of Federal Elections Commission records shows that Chartwell Associates has three major clients: Friends of David Schweikert, Schweikert Victory Committee, and Defending America's Values Everywhere (Team Dave).

To date, those three committees have paid Chartwell $148,315 in consulting fees, plus another $57,946 for what's labeled as "strategic consulting/travel."

In theory, congressional staffers are allowed to work on their bosses' campaigns, so long as they do it on their own time. They just have to be careful not to use any government resources in the process — which means leaving the building if they're going to make a fundraising phone call during their lunch break, for instance.

The problem is that senior staffers have a limit on how much money they can earn from a second job. And according to the records cited in the ethics complaint, Schwab's double-dipping put him over that limit.

It's not the first time that Schwab's cash flow has raised eyebrows. In November, the conservative Washington Examiner published a story in which several anonymous sources accused Schwab of using taxpayer money to pay for perks like an $800-a-night hotel room — which official records confirmed.

Schwab told the Examiner that he was in full compliance with House rules. But the recent ethics complaint, which is backed up by the FEC's records, shows one area where he seems to have slipped up.

In 2014, Chartwell received $109,500 from Schweikert's campaign committees. That's significantly more than the $26,955 cap on outside earned income that Schwab was subject to as a senior staffer, per federal law.

How do we know that the payments weren't going toward someone else's salary?

Well ... Schwab himself told the Washington Examiner that "anytime you see Chartwell, that’s Oliver Schwab” and admitted that the firm was a one-man operation.

In 2015 and 2016, Schwab reported that his outside earned income from Chartwell fell below the legal limit. But the ethics complaint points out that the Schweikert's campaign committees paid Chartwell an additional $57,946 for "strategic consulting/travel" over the course of those two years, which Schwab did not mention in his financial disclosure statements.

Reached for comment, Schwab didn't respond to the specific allegations in the complaint.

"Last year, Congressman Schweikert requested a review of both official and campaign expenditures to make certain they complied with all laws, rules and regulations," he wrote in a statement emailed to Phoenix New Times. "While that process is ongoing, he remains confident that any errors that may have occurred were inadvertent and made in good faith."

The complaint also accuses Schweikert of accepting illegal campaign contributions, based on the fact that his campaign committees reimbursed Schwab on a handful of occasions for various expenses that he'd incurred. Federal law states that congressional staffers can't donate to their bosses' campaigns — and the House Ethics Manual says that even paying for something with the expectation that you'll immediately be reimbursed technically counts as a "contribution."

It's an election year, and clearly politics are at work here: The ethics complaint was submitted by Laurie Coe, a Scottsdale Realtor who's active with the Arizona Democratic Party. Coe told New Times that she'd grown frustrated with Schweikert's unwillingness to meet with constituents, and wanted to expose what she sees as hypocrisy.

"When I look at the numbers, I'm really kind of perplexed," she said. "He’s the one who doesn’t believe in social programs, but he wants to spend that much on his staff?"

In any case, it sure looks like something weird is going on over at Schweikert HQ. In 2017, he raised $546,585.25 and spent $497,338.85 — a pretty insane burn rate considering that it wasn't even an election year. And that definitely doesn't seem to square with Schweikert's official bio, which describes him as "a fiscal conservative and detail-oriented 'numbers guy.'"

You can view the full complaint here:

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.