• Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz spent almost $200,000 in taxpayer funds to rent office space from a longtime friend and campaign donor, Politico reported.
  • Gaetz and the donor, Collier Merrill, have reportedly known each other for decades, and Merrill is also an adviser and legal client of Gaetz’s.
  • Their rental agreement appears to be against House rules.
  • The guidelines state that 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).”
  • Gaetz made headlines last month when he called for North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr’s resignation over an ethical controversy.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has spent almost $200,000 in taxpayer funds to rent office space from a longtime friend and campaign donor, Politico reported on Friday.

The outlet reported that Gaetz and Collier Merrill, a Pensacola-based real estate developer, have known each other for decades and that Merrill is also an adviser and legal client to Gaetz.

Gaetz’s agreement with Merrill appears to be against House rules.

The guidelines state that 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).”

Gaetz and Merrill initially told Politico in separate interviews that the Republican congressman paid below market rent for the office space, which is more than 3,000 square feet. Gaetz later backtracked and said his rent was “at or below market rate.”

Gaetz has rented from Merrill since 2017, when he first began serving in Congress, and he’s paid more than $184,000 to Merrill’s real estate company, Empire Partners LLC.

Politico reported that the House’s Administrative Counsel approved the rental agreement, but the House was not initially aware of Gaetz’s long relationship with Merrill.

Gaetz made headlines in recent weeks for his sharp criticism of ethics controversies related to North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr.

ProPublica reported last month that Burr dumped as much as $1.72 million in stocks on February 13, days after reassuring the public that the US was well prepared to handle the novel coronavirus.

Burr is the chairman of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, which has access to the federal government’s most classified and sensitive information. According to Reuters, Burr’s committee was getting daily briefings on the threat of the coronavirus around the time he dumped his stock.

Gaetz called on Burr to resign following the news reports.

“@KatieHill4CA gets run out of Congress for screwing a campaign staffer absent any complaint,” Gaetz tweeted on March 24, referring to former California Rep. Katie Hill, who resigned last year after allegations that she had a sexual relationship with a congressional staffer, and an admission to a relationship with a campaign aide.

“@SenatorBurr stays as Intelligence Chairman after screwing all Americans by falsely reassuring us w opeds on #COVID while he dumped his stock portfolio early. This is not fair,” Gaetz added.

Politico reported that Gaetz’s office asked for more time to respond to the story because of a phone call with the White House. Minutes later, Gaetz tweeted out his version of events, defended his relationship with Merrill, and denied he had engaged in any improper practices.

He accused Politico of doing a “smear piece” on him as “shills” for Burr’s office, “probably in exchange for some other intel story.”

Gaetz went on to distance himself from Merrill and described him as a legal client from “many years ago” who attended “various official functions” that were open to the public.

“So I’ve been busted possibly getting a deal for taxpayers while allowing a beloved, multi-generation local community leader to donate some free food to students who excel in Art,” Gaetz added. 

Read More