As Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney suspended in-person campaign efforts and told constituents to stay home to fight coronavirus, the New York Democrat disclosed spending tens of thousands of dollars to travel the state, prompting ethics concerns.
Maloney—who leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—halted his campaign's in-person signature-collecting push in March 2020. Days later, he urged constituents to "stay home" and "stop spreading this virus." Over the next nine months, however, he spent nearly $29,000 on "ground transportation" and "automobile expenses," financial disclosures show. The disbursements included nearly $20,000 in lease and insurance payments, more than $3,600 in collision repairs, nearly $2,200 in gas, more than $2,100 in rental car fees, and nearly $500 for a satellite radio subscription.
Maloney's expenses were unusual in his region. Rep. Antonio Delgado (D., N.Y.), for example, did not disclose any car-related expenses in 2020. Delgado's 19th Congressional District is nearly six times the size of Maloney's neighboring 18th district. Like Maloney, Delgado pivoted to virtual events during the pandemic. Under U.S. campaign finance law, candidates cannot use donor funds to pay for personal travel.
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Maloney did not return a request for comment.
Ethics experts called the expenditures suspect. Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust executive director Kendra Arnold told the Washington Free Beacon that Maloney "has a duty to explain" the payments, which she said raised "red flags."
"Candidates don't have to link [disbursements] to a specific corresponding event," Arnold said. "We generally look for spending that isn't in the realm of a candidate in the same state or in a similar-sized district."
Watchdog groups have criticized Republicans for similar spending patterns. Accountable.US called for an investigation into Rep. Lauren Boebert (R., Colo.) in February over campaign mileage expenses. Like Maloney, Boebert claimed travel expenses on dates for which she did not list any public events. And while Boebert outspent Maloney on gas, she did not use campaign funds to pay for car leases, rentals, repairs, insurance, and satellite radio.
The sizable vehicle expenses are not new for Maloney, whose campaign has spent nearly $130,000 on car expenses since 2012, financial disclosures show. Many of the payments came in non-election years as Maloney attended constituent town halls in his official capacity, thus barring him from using donor funds to foot the bill.
Maloney has faced lawsuits and Federal Election Commission complaints for alleged ethics violations in the past.
After former New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman resigned due to allegations of violence against women, Maloney launched a bid to replace the disgraced Democrat while still running to retain his House seat. He went on to transfer $1.4 million in federal funds to his state campaign account, prompting a lawsuit from New York progressive Zephyr Teachout, as well as multiple ethics complaints.
Maloney has faced a tumultuous tenure as DCCC chair thus far. In April, the Democrat failed to report thousands of dollars in stock trades within the required 30 to 45 days. Days later, his campaign group helped progressive congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) funnel $5,000 donations to a number of vulnerable House Democrats, an unforced error that sparked Republican attacks. Multiple recipients quickly pledged to return the money.
UPDATE, May 8, 12:40 p.m.: A previous version of this story indicated that Maloney claimed campaign mileage on dates with no campaign events. The spending was for gas.