News · Press Release

Culberson, The Latest Duncan Hunter?

Yet another Republican is in hot water for using his campaign account for questionable purposes. This time, instead of Rep. Hunter buying his rabbit cross-country plane tickets, it’s Congressman Culberson spending nearly $50,000 on “books, coins, Civil War memorabilia, and other collectibles,” in addition to over $300 on… fossils. You read that right, fossils.  If that’s not suspicious, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

DCCC Spokesperson, Cole Leiter released the following statement:

“Congressman Culberson keeps finding himself in the middle of Washington’s swirling scandals and now, in addition to answering for his role in Congressman Collins’ insider trading scheme, Culberson needs to answer for exactly why his campaign spent nearly $50,000 on Civil War memorabilia, coins, fossils, and more. This latest reporting shows that the more you look, the more you find inside Washington’s culture of corruption.”


Democrats question $50k in books and collectibles that Rep. Culberson bought with campaign funds

By Kevin Diaz || Houston Chronicle

WASHINGTON – Texas Democrats targeting Republican Congressman John Culberson in Houston are challenging nearly $50,000 in campaign spending since 2004 on books, coins, Civil War memorabilia and other collectibles, some reported as “donor gifts.”

Draft copies of complaints to the Federal Election Commission and the independent Office of Congressional Ethics question the expenses in light of Culberson’s personal interest in military history.

Culberson has reported selling as much as $1.3 million in antiques and collectibles since 2010, something he says he does as a hobby. Because he considers his collection a personal rather than an investment asset, he has not been required to publicly detail his purchases or holdings in congressional disclosure reports.

Culberson’s campaign said Monday said that all of the spending in question was either for research material or modest gifts to campaign contributors and volunteers over the 19 years he’s been in office.

His campaign dismissed the allegations as an “obvious partisan attack.”

The complaints, drafted in the name of Houston Democratic activist Daniel Cohen, a resident of Culberson’s 7th Congressional District, seek investigations into whether the congressman used campaign funds to build his personal collection, something Culberson denies.

“There are questions about whether he’s using his campaign funds as a bank,” Cohen said. “That’s a classic thing people are tired of.”


Culberson spokeswoman Catherine Kelly questioned the motives and the timing of the leaked complaints, coming several days before Culberson and Fletcher meet with the newspaper’s editorial board.

“The documents drafted by Texas Democrats against Congressman Culberson are an obvious partisan attack and ripped directly from the DCCC, are purely speculative, without merit, and have been curiously leaked to the Houston Chronicle fewer than three days before a joint appearance between the Congressman and his opponent,” she said.

Democrats consider the Seventh District, which was narrowly won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, as one of their best pickup opportunities in the midterm elections as they seek to win control of the U.S. House.

The allegations follow recent Democratic attacks surrounding Culberson’s investment in an obscure Australian biotech stock at the center of insider trading charges filed against New York Republican Chris Collins earlier this month. Culberson was one of a half-dozen lawmakers who bought into the company at around the same time in early 2017. He eventually sold at a loss before the company’s share price plummeted to pennies on the dollar.

Culberson said he learned about the bio-tech company, Innate Immunotherapeutics, on his own.

The new complaint also comes several weeks after California Republican Duncan Hunter was indicted for using some $250,000 in campaign contributions, some booked as “donor gifts,” for personal use.

Fossils purchased helped Culberson study climate change, aides say

Democrats have made no specific allegations or provided evidence of any criminal conduct by Culberson. Instead, they have questioned the legitimacy of his campaign’s frequent purchases on, Borders and Barnes & Noble.

In all, they document $32,981 in expenses reported as “books” and “research materials” since 2009, as well as $17,000 on gifts, including antiques and military collectibles, since 2004. More than $5,000 was spent on Civil War memorabilia since 2010.

The complaints also spotlight the use of campaign funds in 2009 to pay for a $375 membership in the Texas State Rifle Association, and in 2012 for a $309 purchase at the Black Hills Institute, which sells and rents fossils.

“It is very unlikely that a congressional campaign committee needs to buy or rent fossils to win a federal election,” the Democrats wrote in their complaint.

Culberson’s aides explained the purchase as research material on paleo-climatology, a subject that would help him understand climate science for his position on an appropriations subcommittee that oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They said the materials helped give him a better understanding of the changing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Culberson has sometimes questioned the scientific consensus on man-made climate change, though he says his mind remains open to new information.

His campaign justified paying for his membership in the NRA-affiliated Texas State Rifle Association as a political expense. He is not a gun collector.

Aides describe Culberson as an avid reader and student of history and science, adding that many of the books he bought through his campaign pertained to his committee assignments in Congress.

His campaign does not dispute the spending on donor gifts, but noted that the $17,000 total works out to an average of less than $1,000 for each year he’s been in Congress.

Culberson’s accounting of his military collectibles has been questioned before because while he reports the income he earns from their sales, he lists their value as zero while they are in his personal collection.

Some ethics analysts have questioned the lack of transparency in the transactions.

“There are plausibility problems to argue you didn’t buy these for investments, but you sold them for more than a million dollars,” said Fred Wertheimer, president and CEO of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan government watchdog group. “We don’t know what he paid, or the value of collection. Those are the questions that come up here.”

Culberson has said he is following the direction of the House Ethics Committee, which does not regard his collectibles as reportable assets until he sells them.

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