WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rep. Earl Hilliard escaped nearly unscathed from an ethics investigation into his finances, earning a written rebuke that spared him the possibility of a fine, reprimand or expulsion.
The Alabama Democrat expressed relief that the ethics panel had finished its work, but questioned why it took so long. Different phases of the investigation have been going on since 1997.
The 10-member committee said Hilliard's admission of wrongdoing was one of the reasons it handed down the lightest possible penalty. The letter cited the five-term lawmaker for using campaign funds on personal loans, salaries of people working for companies run by Hilliard and his family, and rent and utilities for those companies.
Hilliard's 2000 Republican opponent, Ed Martin, responded with disbelief to the light verdict. He said the congressman would likely gain strength in the eyes of black constituents who believe Hilliard was singled out because of his race.
"I'd be stupid to run against Earl now," said Martin, who is also black. "He's just been given the blessings of the Republican Party and Democratic Party to do whatever he wants to do. I might as well start being a criminal. It seems to pay."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.