A nonpartisan ethics watchdog hit Rep. T.J. Cox (D., Calif.) with an ethics complaint Wednesday for using the power of his office to score free tickets into Yosemite National Park on the Fourth of July.
"The ethics rules do not allow Members to use their official position for private or political purposes, i.e., to obtain tickets not available to the general public under the guise of official business," said Kendra Arnold, the executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT). "Given the circumstances and evidence, it certainly appears that Congressman Cox used his official position to circumvent the normal process all citizens have to go through. He then attempted to justify his trip by releasing a political video lobbying for a bill, which, by nature, would not qualify as official business."
Arnold added that an investigation should be opened to reveal the purpose of the congressman's trip, who was with him, and what funds were used for it.
After first being denied passes to Yosemite, Cox convinced the Park Service he needed the passes for official government business. Cox tweeted a picture on July 4 of him and his family enjoying what appears to be Yosemite.
From my family to yours, happy 4th of July! I hope you all have the chance to celebrate safely this weekend. #IndependenceDay pic.twitter.com/lTVMfzxge7
— TJ Cox (@TJCoxCongress) July 4, 2020
A video was later uploaded to a nonprofit hunting and fishing group's social media page showing Cox rallying support for the Great American Outdoors Act, a political activity FACT argues is not covered under "government business."
Cox's campaign staff also revealed in a statement that the passes were being requested for the "travel of Congressman Cox and his family."
This is not the first instance of Cox attempting to use his congressional office for personal benefit. He still has not paid the nearly $145,000 he owes in back taxes, and in March he voted to block legislation that would force politicians to reveal tax liens in congressional financial disclosures.
Cox's opponent is former representative David Valadao, a Republican whom Cox unseated by a margin of less than a percentage point in 2018.