U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz fought back Wednesday against a claim that he’s paying a below-market value to lease his office in downtown Pensacola.
“If this is a crime, let me know when the prison term starts,” the Pensacola Republican quipped to Florida Politics via text message Wednesday afternoon.
The Congressman went on to say that “left-wing groups file crazy stuff against me all the time.”
“It goes with the job of being an effective fighter in Congress,” Gaetz added.
Liberal watchdog group Common Cause lodged multiple complaints about what it says is a below-market office lease; however, the lawmaker says his rate is in line with other tenants in the Pensacola office building.
“The highest-paying tenant pays $24 per foot. The lowest pays $16. I pay $18,” Gaetz said.
“The complaints urge an investigation into whether both men violated the criminal law prohibition on concealment of material facts in filings or statements to the federal government, and whether Rep. Gaetz is violating House gift rules by paying less than market value for his office rent,” Common Cause asserts.
Gaetz’s lease was originally reported by POLITICO in a piece connecting the Congressman and Collier Merrill, his landlord. Merrill owns Empire Partners, which has rented to Gaetz since 2007.
“I’ve never had any professional relationship with Empire,” Gaetz said, providing an invoice that showed a $5,000 monthly rent.
The Common Cause complaints propose a variety of remedies.
The complaint to the Justice Department suggests that Gaetz and Merrill “may have conspired and/or attempted to conspire to commit this offense and/or defraud the United States,” and urges an investigation.
The Committee on House Administration, meanwhile, would be urged to “invalidate the lease, deny future requests for payment, recover from Rep. Gaetz taxpayer funds already used to pay this lease, and take any and all other legal and disciplinary action with respect to Gaetz and Merrill that the Committee deems appropriate.”
The Office of Congressional Ethics complaint seeks inquiry into “whether the lease agreement meets the requirements of House rules and any applicable statutes and whether Rep. Gaetz has generally failed to conduct himself at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House — and, if appropriate, to refer this matter to the House Committee on Ethics.”
Florida Politics asked Gaetz if he worried that the complaints might get play in the House because of the Democratic majority.
“I don’t fear the Democratic majority because I don’t work for them. My bosses are the people of Northwest Florida,” the Congressman said. “They’re very pleased with the feisty representation they are getting.