A government watchdog group is calling on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to investigate Rep. Cori Bush’s, D-Mo, campaign payments to her husband for private security services.
The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) on Thursday sent a complaint to the FEC’s acting general counsel, Lisa Stevenson, asking the commission to look into whether “Rep. Cori Bush and her campaign committee may have used campaign funds for personal use.”
Bush’s campaign paid her now-husband, Cortney Merritts, $60,000 for security in 2022 despite him not having a private security license, which is needed to conduct such services in the St. Louis region. While Merritts collected the payments, Bush’s campaign also spent $225,281 with PEACE Security and $50,000 with an individual named Nathaniel Davis for personal protection.
Within the complaint, FACT says that committees generally may only spend funds for “bona fide campaign or political purposes” and that payments that are not for bona fide services at fair market value could fall under one of two prohibited categories, including “payments to family members” or “gifts.”
“It appears Rep. Bush’s campaign may have made payments for services that were unnecessary or above fair market value because of her personal relationship with the payee,” FACT wrote in the complaint. “If so, these payments would qualify as either impermissible payments to a family member or an impermissible gift.”
“Therefore, we request the FEC investigate whether Rep. Bush converted campaign funds for personal use by paying a salary that was not for bona fide services at fair market value,” FACT continued. “Ultimately, if one or more campaign laws are found to have been broken, we request the FEC hold the respondents accountable.”
It was reported that Bush and Merritts recently wed in a private ceremony. Bush’s office confirmed their marriage on Monday morning, saying they’d been together since before Bush took office in 2021, meaning Bush added Merritts to her campaign’s payroll at least a year after the start of their relationship.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Merritts collected the payments from Bush’s campaign despite not having a private security license in the city of St. Louis or St. Louis County, which includes Bush’s entire congressional district.
“With the exception of St. Louis Police Officers, all persons performing a security function in the City of St. Louis must be licensed to do so through the Private Security Section,” the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department website states. Security officers in St. Louis County must also register with the same security section.
Merritts also does not appear in a Washington, D.C., database of licensed security professionals.
Bush’s campaign sent Merritts bi-monthly $2,500 checks totaling $60,000 last year while it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on private security detail with PEACE Security and Davis. Merritts was also reimbursed $2,359.59 for travel-related costs.
“Any time a member of Congress puts someone with a close personal relationship on the campaign payroll, increased scrutiny is necessary to ensure the legal standard has been met, which in this case are that the payments were for ‘bona fide services at a fair market value,'” Kendra Arnold, FACT’s executive director said.
“Both the fact that reportedly Bush’s husband isn’t licensed to provide security services for which he was paid, and that she was simultaneously paying large amounts to another company for the same services raise red flags that warrant an investigation by the FEC,” Arnold noted.