The Ethics Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives announced on Tuesday it is investigating Iowa Rep. Rod Blum. The Republican congressman quickly responded to the announcement with the sort of rhetoric President Trump uses to deflect charges of ethics violations, and he blamed the investigation on unnamed political enemies.
“That is why they have waged a crusade of personal destruction on me and other principled leaders working to drain the swamp in Washington — this is the Swamp fighting back,” Blum, who represents Iowa’s 1st District, which includes Cedar Rapids, said in a statement released by his office Tuesday afternoon. “In my case they scream ‘ETHICS VIOLATION!’ over a clerical error on a form.”
Actually, the ethics investigation was sparked by the work of Iowa City-based Associated Press reporter Ryan Foley, who revealed in February that the financial disclosure form Blum filed with the House of Representatives had a significant omission.
Blum failed to list Tin Moon, an internet marketing company, even though the company described Blum as one of its owners and its CEO (it later downgraded him to “majority shareholder” on its website). As Foley explained, “Among other services, Tin Moon promises to help companies cited for federal food and drug safety violations bury their Food and Drug Administration warning letters below positive internet search results.”
“We WILL remove the derogatory FDA letter from page one so it no longer damages your business and reputation!” Tin Moon advertised. In May, the FDA warned companies they should not use Tin Moon’s services to hide notices of violations, and instead address the violations.
Tin Moon’s president, Ed Graham, is also president of Digital Canal, a construction software company owned by Blum, as well as the treasurer of Blum’s campaign.
Blum claimed his failure to list Tin Moon was an “oversight,” and wasn’t actually necessary because the company was “worth zero.” He pushed back against the AP’s reporting, but at that time used an old cliche, instead of Trump’s preferred “swamp” metaphor.
“This is a textbook case of making a mountain out of a molehill for political gain,” Blum said.
Blum subsequently apologized for the omission and updated his financial disclosure to include Tin Moon.
In February, Blum claimed he’d never seen Tin Moon’s website, which featured a photo of him wearing a pin that identified him as a member of Congress. Tin Moon also posted a video testimonial, in which “John Ferland representing Digital Canal,” told potential customers, “From one business owner to another, I suggest you take a look at Tin Moon.”
Ferland is chief of staff for Blum’s congressional office and has never worked for Digital Canal. Digital Canal is a construction software company owned by Blum. Ferland said he was asked to record the testimonial by Graham, whom he described as a friend.
Blum is currently running for reelection against Abby Finkenaeur, a Democratic member of the Iowa House of Representatives. He is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent Republicans in this year’s election.
In its statement on the investigation, the Ethics Committee said,
The Committee notes that the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension and the name of the subject of the matter, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.
The results of the investigation are not expected to be released before the November election.