WASHINGTON - A Republican who missed the swearing-in ceremony on the House floor because he was at a fundraiser in the Capitol has removed critical details of the event from his website.
A spokesman for Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) told The Huffington Post that the event was not a fundraiser and that the funds being solicited were intended merely to cover the cost of bus transportation from the district. If supporters traveled to Washington on their own dime, he said, they could attend the event for free.
But, say congressional ethics experts, the fact remains that Fitzpatrick solicited campaign cash for an event at the Capitol, a clear violation of House rules. Money that the campaign spent on the event would be considered campaign expenditures.
Rules about fundraising on federal property in general and in the Capitol specifically are as strict as possible: It is illegal even to use a personal cell phone to raise funds from the Capitol and campaign events are broadly forbidden.
The invitation to "Mike Fitzpatrick's Swearing In Celebration" asks for a $30 contribution at the top of document, but further below has buttons for contributions in the amount of $60, $90, $120 and "other."
That section of the invite has been taken down by the campaign since news of the fundraiser broke.
Elsewhere on the invitation, the campaign suggests that "[i]f you would prefer to donate by check, please address it to Fitzpatrick for Congress," followed by the campaign office address.
At the bottom of the invite is further evidence that the event was a fundraiser: "Please note that your donation will appear on your credit card statement as 'Campaign Financial Svcs,'" it reads. That line, as well as the opportunity to pay by check, has also been taken down.
In its place is a note from Fitzpatrick: "Thanks to all who attended Wednesday's swearing in ceremony. It was a memorable experience for all of us."
The Sunlight Foundation is calling for the House ethics committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Fitzpatrick broke the rules by hosting the fundraiser, and whether Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, also broke the rules by booking the room and attending the event.
Sunlight notes that campaign funds can be used to host a swearing-in reception, but not one that raises funds.
"Other lawmakers held celebrations on Capitol Hill that did not include solicitations for money in their invitations," notes Sunlight's Paul Blumenthal. "Dan Boren, Sean Duffy, Bill Huizenga, Reid Ribble, and Roy Blunt all held swearing in receptions in congressional offices that did not include an ask for campaign contributions. Blunt also held an event at the Library of Congress that did not solicit money."
Darren Smith, Fitzpatrick's spokesman, defended the congressman's actions by saying that the money simply went to cover transportation costs. "Some people paid $30 to cover the cost of bus transportation to Washington. The reception was open to anyone who showed up, including over a hundred people who drove down on their own," he said of the 500-person event.
Craig Holman, an election-law expert with Public Citizen's Congressional Watch, said that it doesn't matter whether the funds went to offset costs. "Any solicitation for fundraising purposes -- and that would include any solicitation to cover expenses -- is included in campaign finance law," he said.
"One of the most important questions is whether Congressman Fitzpatrick was holding a fundraiser under the dome of the Capitol. That's what we need to know," said a spokesman for Rep. George Miller.
The likely venue to litigate such a dispute is the Congressional ethics committee.
On Thursday, Fitzpatrick was one of the members who read the Constitution from the dais. He would have been on hand to hear the section he violated read aloud: "Article VI, Paragraph 3: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
UPDATE: The two undocumented members of Congress have sent an official letter of apology. But the signatures appear to have been signed by auto-pen, according to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.).
WATCH Fitzpatrick read the Constitution:
This version corrects Holman's affiliation.
How will Donald Trump’s first 100 days impact YOU? Subscribe, choose the community that you most identify with or want to learn more about and we’ll send you the news that matters most once a week throughout Trump’s first 100 days in office. Learn more