Watchdogs file ethics complaint against Boehner over spending to defend DOMA

John Boehner

John Boehner

A Washington D.C. government watchdog organization this week asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) broke federal law when he hired a law firm to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

John Boehner

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed an ethics complaint with the OCE, alledgeing Boehner violated the Anti-deficiency Act, a law designed specifically to prevent government overspending.

In April, Boehner directed the House Office of General Counsel (OGC) to sign a contract to pay an outside firm $500,000 to defend the controversial Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

“It is ironic that Speaker Boehner — a fierce critic of government overspending — did not hesitate to pledge half a million dollars he does not have to defend a law of dubious constitutionality,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “It seems the speaker believes fiscal responsibility starts at home, but not in the House.”

The Anti-deficiency Act prohibits federal officials from incurring obligations or making expenditures in excess of amounts available in appropriated funds. Violators are subject to administrative discipline. Knowing and willful violations can be punished by up to two years imprisonment.

On Feb. 23 the Obama administration sided with a July 2010 ruling that declared DOMA unconstitutional, and announced that the Justice Department would no longer defend the law in court in 10 pending cases.

According to CREW, the $500,000 that former Solicitor General Paul Clement’s law firm will receive for representing the House is more than 35% of the $1,415,000 Congress appropriated for the OGC, leaving the OGC with insufficient funds to cover both the office’s salaries and expenses and the costs of defending DOMA.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, called the CREW complaint “off-base and stupid.”

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