Florida congressman caught spending taxpayer funds to rent an office from a longtime friend and campaign donor

Florida congressman caught spending taxpayer funds to rent an office from a longtime friend and campaign donor
Matt Gaetz, MSNBC Screengrab

According to a report from Politico, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is once again facing scrutiny after it was reported that he has spent nearly $200,000 in taxpayer money renting out a floor in a historic building in downtown Pensacola owned by a campaign donor and political confidante since 2017.


Gaetz, who has already under investigation by the Florida Bar for a political stunt that involved trying to break into a secure meeting in Congress, now is under fire for what appears to be a sweetheart leasing deal that led the Florida lawmaker to walk-back an earlier explanation.

According to Politico, "The agreement between Gaetz and Collier Merrill, a Pensacola real estate developer and restaurateur, highlights how a decades-long relationship can become intertwined with a lawmaker’s congressional duties. On top of being Merrill’s tenant, Gaetz attended fundraisers at Merrill’s restaurants, sought his counsel on policy matters and tapped him as a validator for his work in Washington."

Previously, when questioned about the deal, both Gaetz and Merrill defended it by saying the agreement was "at or below market rate.”

Politico reports: "House rules explicitly state such arrangements are not allowed."

"Gaetz — who represents a conservative swath of the Florida Panhandle — has paid more than $184,000 to Merrill’s Empire Partners LLC to rent the entire sixth-floor in the Seville Tower, a historic building in downtown Pensacola, according to House disbursement records," Politico reports. "House rules state that all leases for district offices must be 'at fair market value as the result of a bona fide, arms-length, marketplace transaction. The Lessor and Lessee certify that the parties are not relatives nor have had, or continue to have, a professional or legal relationship (except as a landlord and tenant).'"

In his defense, Merrill states that he dispatched his leasing director to offer Gaetz’s staff a “range to see what they can get” and that they reached a mutually agreeable price, with the friend of Gaetz also adding, "I probably be damned if I do, damned if I didn't. If I [set the rent] too cheap, I'm probably doing him a favor, if I do it too expensive, he’s doing me a favor.”

On Twitter, the Republican congressman accused Politico of writing a "hit piece."

The interest in the office deal comes at a time when the Florida lawmaker has been attacking fellow Republican, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) over what appears to be insider stock trades prior to the coronavirus health crisis developing into a full-scale pandemic.

You can read more here.

#story_page_post_article

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.