A Congressman’s Gift Shop Shenanigans May Land Him in Confessional

Representative Alex Mooney’s (R-W.Va.) campaign may be the worst thing to hit the Catholic Church since the Reformation.

Since Pope Francis fulminated upon disgraced Bishop Michael Bransfield of West Virginia last year for financial crimes and other baaad stuff, the Church in this part of the United States has been quiet.

At least no one inside has done anything untoward.

It has come to light, however, Mooney (better known in local coffee shops as “Alejandro El Gordo”), who is the kind of nomadic politician known as a “carpetbagger” and who has run for office in New Hampshire, Maryland, and now West Virginia, may have been less-than-straight-forward about his West Virginia campaign finances.

Worse, his chief of staff Mike Hough, when he is not wasting West Virginia’s valuable time while doing his other job as Maryland state senator and active candidate for the office of Frederick County (Maryland) executive, apparently is giving the congressman really bad advice. It’s been his idea that Mooney should continue to stonewall and ignore the news media. This advice may have caused the recent hemorrhage of Mooney’s staffers, not the least of which was the loss of his communications director, Lynn Hatcher, just last week.

Given that, Hough’s stand-still-and-remain-motionless-till-you-have-an-advantage strategy appears to be exactly like the modus operandi of a shoebill bird (you be the judge).*

The resemblance is uncanny! (Getty Images)

It seems that Mooney may soon be up to his Falstaffian derrière in shoebill poop.

Here’s why: The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) is reviewing the congressman’s $49,000 in allegedy questionable campaign expenditures.

Speculation about what the congressman may or may not have done could end instantly if his office would simply answer questions or even take a phone call from American Greatness, on behalf of his constituents who have a right to know the truth about his campaign finances.

Included in the $49,000 sum is around $19,000 with which he may have involved the unsuspecting Catholic Church; the Church, in turn, inadvertently may have profited (though not very much) from a questionable money source. (A spokesman for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston told American Greatness that the parish did not have a policy regarding gift shop sales to political campaigns but has cooperated fully with the OCE by providing a copy of every Mooney-connected transaction.)

The $19,000 appears to have been spent at St. James Parish and at its small gift shop, Saint Zita’s Cupboard, in Charles Town, West Virginia, which is a few blocks from Mooney’s residence of record. The shop is staffed by volunteers, most of them well into their golden years, where they sell items like rosaries, crucifixes, mantillas, and . . . retail gift cards.

Given that House Ethics Committee rules are vague regarding a political campaign’s purchase of retail gift cards, the way in which they are used could make them retail grift cards, especially if they are universally accepted Visa cards.

For example, a check written to “Saint Zita’s Cupboard” or “Saint James Parish”  for $250, and cashed, might not reveal that it was spent on a gift card, and thus could pass as a charitable donation for the full amount.

In fact, the Church would receive a benefit of only 1.25 percent from Visa for a total of $3.13.  But the entire $250 Visa gift card amount would remain with the signer of the check, with no expiration date.

This is not to suggest that what’s going on might be called money laundering, or even Mooney laundering, but Mooney’s unwillingness to communicate in any way is a clear manifestation of Chief of Staff Mike Hough’s aforementioned shoebill strategy. Stand still. Do nothing. Remain silent.

The Church, as we’ve seen, does not take financial fandangos lightly. Pope Francis already has fired Cardinal Becciu, the chief of staff of the Vatican secretariat of state. And nine other defendants have drawn time behind bars, including the head of the Vatican Bank. Since firing a cardinal is not an easy thing to do, it is no wonder the Pope recently wound up in the hospital for major intestinal surgery.

What the Pope doesn’t need is this: Much as the ill-conceived idea of selling indulgences six centuries ago shattered the Catholic Church, the profiting, however unintentional, from improperly used gift cards purchased by a political campaign could impel a present-day Martin Luther with Internet skills to initiate a social media-based small scale Reformation that could have adverse consequences . . . like finally fracturing the last ties between “Cafeteria Catholics” and the rest of the Church.

Speaking of cafeterias, Mooney continues to swing for the highest caloric fences, like Babe Ruth in his chunkiest days. If the OCE review doesn’t work out for Mooney, he’ll be batting .571 on the seven deadly sins just on the basis of campaign finance chicanery.

So, what to do? (Drumming fingers . . . )

How about checking the serial numbers on any gift cards and tracking where the money went, just to be sure of the congressman’s innocence.

Better still, how about simply sending Alex Mooney to confession?

Sure, it will take a couple of days, providing they rotate the priests as fatigue sets in. But when they get to the part about penance, they’ll have to call a time-out.

To phone the pope for an estimate.

In turn, if the good congressman is not propelled to the bottom of Dante’s stairwell—and given that his seat is being redistricted out of existence—Alex Mooney may yet be able to carpetbag his way to Cardinal.

After all, he looks so good in a mitre.

*No shoebills were injured in the writing of this article; no lawyers representing shoebills have called about defamation of character. Yet.

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About Chuck de Caro

Chuck de Caro is a contributor to American Greatness. He was CNN's very first Special Assignments Correspondent. Educated at Marion Military Institute and the U.S. Air Force Academy, he later served with the 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne). He has taught information warfare (SOFTWAR) at the National Defense University and the National Intelligence University. He was an outside consultant for the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment for 25 years. A pilot since he was 17, he is currently working on a book about the World War I efforts of Fiorello La Guardia, Giulio Douhet, and Gianni Caproni, which led directly to today’s U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command.

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