-- A congressional ethics panel says it is looking into the activities of U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey, who has reported using campaign money to pay for at least 18 trips to California, where his teenage daughter has a fledgling career as a singer and actress.
The House Ethics Committee released a statement Tuesday saying it would issue a decision on a matter regarding Andrews by Aug. 31.
It was the first time the committee has acknowledged a probe of Andrews, a Democrat from Haddon Heights. The probe was first reported by the Courier-Post.
Andrews said in a statement that the committee will clear him of accusations that he called "politically motivated" and "totally and categorically false." He also said that the accusations involve campaign funds and not taxpayer money and that the campaign money was "properly spent and fully disclosed."
"I am humbled and honored to serve in the Congress. In the course of my service, I have always followed every rule and standard," he said.
Andrews said the investigation was sparked by a call for a probe last November by local Republican officials in New Jersey.
The ethics committee didn't detail what they are looking into or why. But the panel did say it started looking into the matter on April 2, less than a week after the publication of an Associated Press report that detailed the extent of Andrews' travels to California.
Using Andrews' own campaign finance filings, the AP found that the congressman spent $97,000 on at least 18 trips to California from 2007 to 2011. Some of the travels coincided with Josie Andrews' recording sessions in California.
During that time, he also collected about $260,000 in donations from California residents and political action committees. Campaign fundraising experts say that raising less than $3 per $1 spent on fundraising is a lower rate than normal.
An Andrews spokesman said in March that his expenditures in California were legitimate because they included meetings where Andrews learned about such issues as education, law, entertainment and foreign affairs and because fundraisers there helped him make connections to raise money in other states.
Andrews has been criticized for his use of campaign money before.
In 2009, he repaid his campaign for more than $900 for replacing clothing that was lost by an airline. The Federal Election Commission had ruled that that expenditure wasn't permissible.
Last year he reimbursed more than $13,000 he used to take his family to a wedding in Scotland. Even as it repaid, the campaign said that nothing was wrong and that the trip was made for a donor's wedding. The FEC hasn't ruled on that one.
And in February, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which takes aim at what it sees as ethical lapses by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, called on the FEC to audit his November California trip. The FEC doesn't disclose ongoing actions.
In March, CREW issued another report based on campaign finance reports and federal spending requests to examine how members of Congress use their jobs to benefit their families. That report criticized Andrews for donating campaign money to performance groups with which his daughter has been involved and earmarking federal appropriations for the Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, where his wife is an administrator. Andrews' spokesman, Fran Tagmire, said it was appropriate to use campaign money to fund community organizations.