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We Were Rooting For You, Marie Newman!
Congress member caught in ethics scandal.
Last week, the Office of Congressional Ethics released a report revealing that Democratic Rep. Marie Newman might’ve offered someone a cushy job in exchange for agreeing not to run against her in the 2020 primary. That all seems inappropriately quid pro quo-ey, but I like Newman, so I want to give her the benefit of the doubt. She did defeat anti-choice Democrat Dan Lipinski who sucked. (Even on the way out the door, he voted against increasing COVID-19 benefit checks.) Maybe the accusations against Newman are more complex than they seem at first glance.
The report alleges Newman promised to give Iymen Chehade, her former campaign adviser, a job on her congressional staff if she won her 2020 election. Per a copy of an apparent contract between the two, Newman guaranteed she would employ Chehade as her chief foreign policy adviser, and either district director or legislative director for the entirety of her time in Congress.
Wait, hold up, there was a goddamn contract?
As the infamous Count Petofi from "Dark Shadows" said, “I don’t mind theft. I do mind stupidity. And you’ve been very stupid.” The contract — lordy, there was a contract — "set Chehade’s salary at somewhere between $135,000 and $140,000 per year — a whopping total in terms of pay for congressional staffers.” The average Congress member’s salary is $174,000, so yeah, this was pretty stupid.
REMEMBER?! Ding Dong, Dan Lipinski Is Gone!
Iymen Chehade is a "self-described community leader, artist, businessman, and former high school drop-out turned college professor.” It’s not clear that he was all that qualified to serve as her chief foreign policy adviser or why Newman was worried about losing a primary to Chehade. I’m also fuzzy on the logic behind giving Chehade the very political experience that might make it possible for him to successfully challenge her in a primary race. Of course, once they put all this in writing, the last thing Newman would want to do is renege on the deal because she clearly had the most to lose from exposure. So, obviously, after Newman won the Democratic primary in March 2020, she (allegedly!) reneged on the deal.
This might’ve been one of those bad-ass “your services are no longer needed” moments but instead of falling through a trap door, Chehade just sued her. Presumably, he understood that he’s not the one subject to congressional ethics rules. Maybe he was qualified for that job after all.
Newman’s legal defense was hilarious. She acknowledged that she’d signed the contract, but she did so as a private citizen, not as a member of Congress. The contract Private Citizen Newman signed couldn’t bind Rep. Newman in her public capacity, even though they are the same person.
Chehade and Newman settled the lawsuit last summer, but here’s where it gets weird. According to Newman’s latest FEC filings, she did hire Chehade as a foreign policy adviser — but through her campaign and not her congressional office.
Chehade has received a total of $54,000 since the second half of 2021, mostly in salary installments of $7,500 a month, but sometimes with additional $2,000 payments. According to the FEC filings, the disbursements to Chehade began on July 1, 2021, just two days after both sides reached a deal to resolve the lawsuit.
Ben Hardin, Newman’s campaign manager, released this statement: “As sometimes happens, Mr. Chehade and Marie had a disagreement that led to a lawsuit in 2021. The two settled the lawsuit amicably last year and agreed to move forward together in a productive manner ... Democrats should view this as exactly what it is — a tactic out of the right wing playbook to manufacture a scandal.”
Newman does not actually serve on any foreign policy committees in the House. However, she reportedly blamed her previous election loss in 2018 on her lack of foreign policy expertise, especially regarding the Israel and Palestine conflict. Chehade is Palestinian-American. (He’s also launched his own primary bid in the new Illinois Third Congressional District.)
Newman told the Office of Congressional Ethics that she never discussed Chehade’s interest in running for her seat, but the OCE found an email she sent Newman that included this damning passage: "Chehade agrees not to announce or submit his candidacy for election to Congressional Representative of the 3rd District of Illinois. In exchange, Newman will hire Chehade as her Chief Foreign Policy Advisor."
The House Ethics Committee has not yet concluded that an ethical violation occurred. However, this seems fairly unethical, and it’s possible that voters will agree. Due to redistricting, Newman will face current Democratic Rep. Sean Casten in Illinois’s new Sixth Congressional District. There’s no evidence that Casten has ever paid anyone not to run against him.
[ The Daily Beast ]
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