A Congressman’s Truth Problem

United States Representative Alexander Mooney (R-W.V.) used campaign money to pay for personal expenses, including $3,475 in meals from Chick-fil-A and other fast-food restaurants, two vacation trips to resorts in West Virginia, and $17,250 in gift card purchases (first reported as closer to $19,000) from a Catholic Church gift shop. He has repaid more than $12,000 of a disputed $40,115 as a result of an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation. 

Roll Call last week published a fairly comprehensive story on Mooney’s ethical lapses—confirming many details American Greatness has been reporting since July. Roll Call managed to get ahold of a transcript of the OCE’s interview with Mooney. He doesn’t come off well. (And, incidentally, this is not the first time Mooney and the OCE have crossed paths.) 

Attempting to justify his fast-food tab, Mooney explained he would charge his campaign for a meal “when I’m visiting with constituents.”

OCE: So if you—let’s say you go to Chick-Fil-A and you charge that to the campaign, the justification for that, being that there are constituents at the Chick-Fil-A that you spoke to?

Mooney: Yes. Yeah, I was meeting with constituents.

By “meeting,” evidently, Mooney meant he would stop in for lunch, do a little glad-handing with the locals, and expense the meal to his campaign. Over and over. That isn’t allowed under Federal Election Commission and House rules. Moreover, the IRS might consider the funds in question unreported income.

As for the odd gift card purchases, Mooney maintains he used them for campaign-related grocery store purchases and that he bought them from the church because the parish receives a percentage of the card’s value. The congressman, who sits on the influential House Financial Services Committee, seems utterly unaware of what else gift cards may be useful for.

The OCE makes it a bit more explicit. The purchase of the gift cards, according to the report, “circumvents and likely violates FEC regulations requiring disclosure of the ultimate recipient of campaign funds.”

“There is reason to believe” Mooney’s lack of proper disclosure “has had the effect, whether intended or not, of concealing thousands of dollars of personal use,” the OCE concludes.

Mooney’s case now goes to the House Ethics Committee, which could vote to impose a host of penalties, or decide to do nothing at all (which seems to happen a lot). 

Mooney has a bigger problem, though. With us. 

A “Disgruntled Constituent”?

In June, Chuck de Caro, a regular contributor to American Greatness and one of Mooney’s constituents, reached out to the congressman’s office. A former CNN Special Assignments Correspondent turned consultant, de Caro has more than five decades of experience in newspapers and television, and is a published author of books and papers on information warfare. 

De Caro is also a good man and a protective husband. In 2015, Chuck and his wife, former CNN Headline News anchor Lynne Russell, were assaulted by a gangster at a motel in Albuquerque. The assailant opened fire, striking de Caro three times. De Caro, who was legally armed, returned fire and killed the attacker. He nearly died and still has bullet fragments in his body.

When I last saw de Caro in California a few months ago, he told me about Mooney. He became interested in him because, frankly, the congressman has little charisma and zero televisual presence. De Caro offered, gratis, to help Mooney cultivate a more competent screen presence while exposing the leftism of his colleagues, such as Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and “the squad.” He didn’t get a meeting with Mooney but had coffee with a staffer from the local district office, where they discussed the congressman’s tragic inability to be effective on camera. 

Afterward, de Caro decided to write an article chiding Mooney. He wrote a couple of follow-ups. Though de Caro’s column-writing style can be sardonic at times, even caustic, the point of his criticisms was to goad Mooney to clean up his act (literally and figuratively) and to do better. 

It might have ended there, but for a strange development. Current and former Mooney staffers had read the articles and contacted de Caro. It turned out, the congressman and his chief of staff, Michael Hough, had seen the articles, too. And they didn’t like them one little bit. As de Caro would say, cockroaches don’t like sunlight

In Hough and Mooney’s view, criticism from a journalist in the district makes de Caro a “disgruntled constituent”—and a potentially dangerous one. 

On July 30, Hough circulated an email memo among staff, which American Greatness has obtained from a source. It included a picture of de Caro and (inexplicably) his wife Lynne, along with the following that looks and reads a bit like a wanted poster: 

There is a disgruntled constituent who is contacting our office and has published a number of personal attack pieces aimed at the Congressman and our staff. Here is today’s piece, which includes an internal, never published, document from our D.C. office:

Alex Mooney: From Thunderer to Simperer

We are investigating how these documents were obtained. In the meantime no one on staff is to communicate with Chuck De Caro in any way what so ever. If he calls the office, direct him to write the office and say no more. He may use other names and call or try to visit in an attempt to gain information.

Malicious individuals will lie or give wrong information or refuse to give their personal information in an attempt to steal documents and information. Given the sensitive nature of the work our office does on behalf of constituents and the nation—we must be mindful. Supervisors please share this email and brief the interns as well.

The only maliciousness I can see is from Mooney and Hough. At no time, ever, has de Caro lied or offered “wrong information” to “steal” documents. The accusation is absolutely baseless, a bald-faced lie. Again, De Caro, who has decades of experience as a professional journalist, did what experienced journalists do: cultivate sources to get at the truth. Once he began digging into the ethics charges against Mooney, he identified himself as a writer for American Greatness. He didn’t lie or steal anything. He didn’t need to. 

The congressman is not required to like what we’ve found and reported so far. He is required, however, to comply with congressional ethics investigators. Given his blinkered unwillingness to answer reporters’ simple questions, House ethics investigators might want to explore what else he may be hiding

The Conservative Grift on Display

The same day that Hough circulated his office memo, July 30, he emailed American Greatness Publisher Chris Buskirk to complain about de Caro’s treatment of the congressman. Hough asserted that de Caro called Mooney and him “Nazis.” Untrue. Hough was also perturbed that de Caro characterized them both as RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). True. Hough noted how Mooney is a “Freedom Caucus Conservative Republican.” Surely that must count for something?  

Well, no. Not really. 

Politics has always been a breeding ground for opportunists, fraudsters, grifters, and cheats. That public men publish falsehoods is nothing new. No political party is immune. Neither, as we’ve seen time and again, is the conservative movement. 

Alex Mooney sought office in West Virginia because he had no political future in Maryland, where he was a state senator and had hoped to achieve a high position in the Old Line State’s Republican Party leadership.

In other words, he’s a carpetbagger. He has served three relatively undistinguished terms in Congress and proposed comparatively few original pieces of legislation. His district will disappear next year as a result of the state’s population decline, but he evidently plans to battle another incumbent Republican for one of two remaining congressional seats and then gear up for a U.S. Senate run in 2024. 

Mooney is a grifter and a thin-skinned one at that. He used campaign funds for personal enrichment and offered C-minus excuses when he got caught. He might try to claim that he has been unfairly targeted by Nancy Pelosi Democrats, but American Greatness is hardly a friend of Pelosi or her party’s destructive policies. He might then object that “conservatives” should not attack fellow “conservatives.”

Except “conservatives” do violence to their cause when they fail to serve and uphold the public trust. Why in the world would we go to the wall for a representative who is clearly in politics for himself, regardless of what he professes to “think”?

By his deeds shall a man be known. Voters now know exactly who Alex Mooney is. 

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About Ben Boychuk

Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness. He is a former weekly syndicated columnist with Tribune Media, and a veteran of several publications, including City Journal, Investor's Business Daily, and the Claremont Review of Books. He lives in California. Subscribe to his Substack newsletter, “Nice Things and Why You Can’t Have Them.”

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

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