On Thursday, The Daily Beast reported that Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) of the San Fernando Valley paid nearly half a million dollars in campaign funds to a marketing firm owned by his wife — a move that may not necessarily break the law, but has raised alarm bells with ethics officials.
"Federal Election Commission records show that the Cardenas campaign routinely remits $4,400 to Essence Marketing at the start of every month, payments which the filings have described as 'Consultant — Communications' since the beginning of 2017," reported William Bredderman. "Interspersed with these regular outlays are larger, sporadic expenditures from Cardenas’s personal political action committee marked 'Communications Consulting Services,' as well as smaller emoluments designated 'Reimbursement' or 'Event Supplies.'"
According to the report, many details of this transaction remain shrouded in mystery.
"It is unclear whether Essence received market-value payments for its services, since it is unclear exactly what services it provides and how those services changed as its compensation increased. Norma Cardenas’s LinkedIn page describes her as an 'emotional wellness facilitator' with experience as a 'life coach,'" said the report. "The only education and certifications the page notes are in hypnotherapy and primordial sound meditation. Also unclear is what other entities and organizations are paying the congressman’s spouse. Essence’s Youtube page hosts just six videos, three of them are Cardenas campaign ads, but one is a promotion for a cleaning products company featuring Ms. Cardenas herself."
“That’s exactly the type of activity that source prohibition is trying to stop,” said Craig Holman, who works for the watchdog group Public Citizen. “It’s just a way of getting around the ban of lobbying contributions.”
Some other California lawmakers have landed in hot water in recent years — perhaps most famously, former Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter was found to have funneled campaign cash into personal expenses along with his wife, resulting in his prosecution — although former President Donald Trump went on to issue him a pardon.