Rep. Madison Cawthorn has a plan for NC's congressional delegation -- and it might break the law

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A political document produced by Congressman Madison Cawthorn obtained by ABC11 may have broken several ethics rules because of its use of official congressional resources.

The document, titled "Congressman Cawthorn's Plan for North Carolina," contains a map of North Carolina's newly approved congressional districts. The map also contains the names and pictures of the candidates Cawthorn envisions running for 11 of 14 districts, all of which are forecasted to be either landslide victories for Republicans or in just one case, a highly competitive race.

A source close to the North Carolina GOP confirmed the validity of the map, which features the official seal of Cawthorn, his official photograph, and the official portraits of incumbent candidates, including Rep. Dan Bishop, Rep. Virginia Foxx, Rep. Richard Hudson, Rep. Patrick McHenry, Rep. Greg Murphy and Rep. David Rouzer.

While the images are in the public domain, their use on political or campaign materials is forbidden according to the U.S. House Committee on Ethics.

"Official resources of the House must, as a general rule, be used for the performance of official business of the house, and hence those resources may not be used for campaign or political purposes," the House Ethics Manual explains, adding that the rules and standards of conduct are based on "the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain reelection."

The use of the congressman's seal might be the most serious issue with the document, however, as the manual states "a provision of the federal criminal code, 18 U.S.C. 713, prohibits the use of certain governmental seals on, among other things, stationery, 'for the purpose of conveying ... a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or by any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof.'"

There is an equal number of Republicans and Democrats on the House Ethics Committee. It's unclear at this time whether there has been a complaint filed related to this document.

Requests for comment from Cawthorn and his office have not been returned.

Congressman Cawthorn's rising status and electoral impact

Since his election in 2020, the 26-year-old has emerged as one of the most outspoken conservatives in the House. Though he earlier condemned the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol--and recognized President Joe Biden as the legitimate winner of the election--he has since become a vociferous defender of President Donald Trump and his claims of widespread election fraud.

Cawthorn, a new member of the House Freedom Caucus, has also been on the offensive to reshape Republican politics in the state and across the country.

"Liberty and freedom must be defended in the People's House by patriots who are unafraid to challenge the status quo and stand for what is right," Cawthorn said in October. "That means upholding promises made to the American people, not selling out to the Swamp."

Last month, Cawthorn sent shockwaves through North Carolina's political establishment when he announced he would switch districts in 2022 from his home area of western North Carolina to a newly drawn district near Charlotte that was widely considered to be an opportunity for N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore to run for Congress.

"Knowing the political realities of the 13th district, I am afraid that another establishment, go-along to get-along Republican would prevail there. I will not let that happen," Cawthorn said in his video announcement.

According to Cawthorn's map, he's endorsing Michelle Woodhouse to run in his home 14th district, along with several incumbents elsewhere in North Carolina. Where Cawthorn's continued impact may be apparent, however, is in the 7th district, which shows former Congressman Mark Walker running -- even though he's currently in the race for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senator against former Gov. Pat McCrory and the Trump-endorsed Rep. Ted Budd, who currently represents the 6th district.

Sources told ABC11 that Cawthorn shared the map with Walker in a meeting with former President Trump in Florida, which according to Politico, led to a deal where Walker would drop out of the Senate race and receive Trump's endorsement for Congress.

ABC11 has independently confirmed the meeting took place.

Candidate filing for the 2022 election opened this week after a hectic 24 hours of court orders and reversals related to lawsuits over the newly drawn congressional districts. Filing is open until December 17.