Illinois Dem Hit With Ethics Complaint Over Alleged Bribe

Marie Newman's contract with potential political opponent warrants 'immediate investigation'

Rep. Marie Newman (D., Ill.) / Getty Images
May 26, 2021

A watchdog group is calling on the House Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate congresswoman Marie Newman after the Illinois Democrat promised a six-figure job in her official office to a potential primary opponent.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) complaint comes months after Palestinian activist Iymen Chehade sued Newman for breach of contract. Court documents show that Newman in 2018 promised Chehade a senior role in her congressional office should she win election. According to the activist, the agreement aimed to "induce Chehade not to run against [Newman] in the primary."

FACT executive director Kendra Arnold said the contract warrants an "immediate investigation" as federal law "specifically prohibits" candidates from "promising a future government job in an attempt to gain political support."

"This is a serious allegation against Rep. Newman, and the written employment contract is extremely persuasive evidence in this case," Arnold said in a statement. "The Office of Congressional Ethics and Department of Justice need to immediately investigate as this is clearly not tolerated in America."

The Newman campaign did not return a request for comment.

Newman promised Chehade a salary of up to $140,000 to serve as both chief foreign policy director and either district director or legislative director, the contract shows. The role did not compel Chehade to "maintain specific hours at the office," and Newman gave the activist "complete discretion about the selection and employment termination of staff members under his supervision." Under the agreement, Newman also vowed to "use her best efforts to provide Chehade a private office within the congressional suite."

Chehade did not enter the primary after signing the contract—a boost to Newman, who narrowly defeated pro-life Democrat Dan Lipinski in March 2020. Chehade's presence in the tight race likely would have hurt Newman, as the activist has deep ties to the district's significant Arab-American community.

The Newman campaign responded to the lawsuit by calling Chehade's claims "fictitious and frankly ludicrous" in a statement. The campaign has not, however, disputed the authenticity of the contract. 

For Arnold, Newman's motivation behind the agreement was presumably political.

"Both the timing of the contract and the fact that Newman entered into it indicate she directly promised a government position for the purpose of procuring support for her candidacy," FACT's complaint states. "There does not appear to be any other reasonable motivation for entering into this contract."