Texas Democratic congressman Vicente Gonzalez has funneled tens of thousands of dollars in campaign cash to a company he owns and directs, a move that elicited condemnation from liberal media outlets and ethics experts when employed by former president Donald Trump.
Since 2018, Gonzalez has sent $33,000 to a mundane-sounding property management company, Tenant Services LLC, for office rent, according to federal campaign finance disclosures. As it turns out, Gonzalez owns that company, financial statements and corporate records obtained by the Washington Free Beacon show. The setup allows Gonzalez to use his job as a politician to pocket more than just his congressional salary, through which the Democrat earns $174,000 a year.
Members of Congress are allowed to pay themselves for office rent so long as the monthly amount matches a fair market rate. Still, similar arrangements have prompted criticism from ethics experts. When Trump's political entity used donor funds to rent office space at Trump Tower, for example, the Huffington Post and the Washington Post quoted watchdog groups that called the setup "sleazy," "a scam," and "a con." The University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, meanwhile, likened Rep. Tom Suozzi to Trump after the New York Democrat used campaign funds to pay a company he owns nearly $40,000. "You shouldn't be running for office or serving in office to enrich yourself in any form," Sabato told the New York Post. "Trump was a master of this."
Gonzalez, who is embroiled in a high-profile campaign against Rep. Mayra Flores (R., Texas), has a long history of ethics issues. For at least eight years, the Democrat and his wife improperly claimed a homestead exemption on two separate properties, saving the couple thousands of dollars in taxes, the Texas Tribune reported in August. Roughly two months earlier, a Business Insider report found that Gonzalez violated a federal conflict-of-interest law by waiting nearly a year to disclose a stock trade. That law requires Gonzalez to report trades no later than 45 days after making them.
Gonzalez did not return a request for comment. The Democrat serves as Tenant Services's "owner and director," according to his latest House financial statement. Corporate records obtained by the Free Beacon also list Gonzalez as the company's sole governing agent.
Gonzalez is not the only Texas Democrat who pays himself for campaign office rent, though he has been less forthcoming about the arrangement when compared to his Lone Star State colleagues. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D., Texas) cuts himself a $750 check every month for "office rent and furnishings"—those disbursements specifically note that Cuellar "personally owns and manages" the building his campaign rents from. In Gonzalez's case, an LLC with a generic name makes the connection less apparent.
Gonzalez's campaign office is listed at the same address as the Democrat's law firm, V. Gonzalez and Associates. Gonzalez earned $110,000 in "attorney fees" from the firm in 2021, his financial statement shows.
Before launching his political career, Gonzalez agreed to represent a slew of controversial clients through his firm. In the late 1990s, for example, the Democrat was retained to defend an array of felony drug dealers who collectively conspired to distribute thousands of pounds of marijuana, nearly half a pound of cocaine, and eight pounds of MDMA, the Free Beacon reported in July. One of Gonzalez's clients, Richard Contreras, pleaded guilty to federal charges after he conspired to import more than 2,200 pounds of marijuana from Mexico. Another, Frank Tijerina, led a Texas street gang called the "Corrupt Criminal Mob." More than a decade later, Gonzalez often emphasizes the need to stop the flow of drugs from the southern border and maintain "law and order."
Gonzalez joined Congress in 2017, replacing longtime Democratic incumbent Rubén Hinojosa in Texas's 15th Congressional District. After Gonzalez cruised to reelection in 2018, he faced an unexpectedly tight 2020 race against Republican Monica de la Cruz, whom he defeated by only 3 points.
That result prompted Gonzalez to instead run in Texas's 34th Congressional District in 2022, as the state's redistricting process made the seat considerably more blue. But Republicans remain hopeful that Flores can beat Gonzalez come November, particularly after Flores in June became the first Mexican-born woman elected to Congress and the first Republican to represent portions of the 34th Congressional District since 1870. In that race, Flores beat her Democratic opponent, Dan Sanchez, in historically blue areas such as Cameron County, which is 90 percent Hispanic and voted for Biden by double digits in 2020. Flores has raised $1.8 million to Gonzalez's $2.3 million.