Ethics panel probes Rep. Spartz over staff abuse claims

The House Ethics Committee has made preliminary inquiries into Rep. Victoria Spartz’s treatment of staff in response to multiple complaints filed about the Indiana Republican’s alleged “abuse,” “general toxicity,” and “rage,” according to a current aide and a former aide who made complaints and have been contacted by investigators in recent weeks.

The aides, who were granted anonymity due to their fear of retribution by Spartz, said their complaints were filed with panel investigators before Spartz won her primary race last month. The investigators told them the Ethics Committee would not launch a formal investigation before then given the potential appearance of meddling in the election, the aides said.

Spartz’s turbulent behavior has continued since, the two people said. In the last few weeks, she has imposed pay cuts reaching into the tens of thousands of dollars for some staffers, which came amid her ongoing complaints about her staff’s performance. In April, Spartz sent a note to staffers forbidding them to talk to POLITICO reporters who were pursuing tips about her office.

“If you feel strongly to badmouth me I am ok with it … but please do not use some made up speculations that could put someone’s life in danger … it’s unethical and will not serve you well in the future,” she wrote in the text, shared by a second former staffer.

On Tuesday, her chief of staff, Patrick Slowinski, resigned after being in the job for less than a month, according to a person familiar with the matter. He declined to comment.

Reached by text about the ethics inquiry, Spartz said she was “not sure what you are talking about.”

Campaign adviser Dan Hazelwood subsequently responded in a statement that Spartz has not been contacted by Ethics Committee staff.

“The congresswoman has long been critical that too many in Washington want power, pay, and privilege then turn around and do nothing,” he continued. “When the system is held to account we get anonymous rumors and exaggerated stories. … She does insist that people be held accountable for delivering policy results to the American people.”

Asked about Slowinski’s resignation, Hazelwood said, “We are sorry to see Patrick depart,” and added: “The congresswoman announced she was running again and just came through a difficult primary so the office is being reorganized and several positions are being modified.”

Tom Rust, chief counsel and staff director for the Ethics Committee, declined to comment.

Two senior Ethics Committee staffers have interviewed at least three additional current or former staffers about the office culture as well as alleged misuse of taxpayer resources, according to the two people. POLITICO obtained text messages sent in April between the Ethics staffers and the former aide, who shared names and phone numbers of current staffers as leads with the investigators.

The former Spartz staffer said one of the investigators shared late last month that panel aides are still gathering material as they await a go-ahead from committee leaders to launch a formal investigation.

In last month’s primary, Spartz defeated eight competitors — including state Rep. Chuck Goodrich, who outspent her nearly three-to-one. Goodrich attacked Spartz’s treatment of her staff in the heated primary, calling her the “number one worst boss in all of Congress,” based on a 2022 POLITICO report.

“Manic behavior,” the Goodrich ad claimed, citing the earlier reporting. “She yells and curses, calling them morons and idiots. Based on the interviews with half a dozen staffers, Victoria Spartz avoided firing staff and instead bullied them until they left.”

Responding to the earlier reports, Spartz expressed gratitude for her staff and said, “I work extremely hard at a pace that is not for everyone.”

Her behavior appears not to have changed much since, according to what six current and former aides have described to POLITICO in recent months. The two people previously quoted who were also granted anonymity have described incidents of verbal abuse to Ethics investigators.

The Ethics inquiry, the two people said, also covers the use of taxpayer-funded House resources for campaign work during legislative office hours. Spartz sometimes asks staffers about campaign issues when she calls them on their official phones while they’re in the office, according to the two people.

“The common thing is for her to call someone up or to their face, cuss them up, say the F-word about a million times, call them effing retards, effing children, effing whatever,” the current staffer said. “That’s a weekly thing. It’s not rare. All my interactions with her have been filled with complete and total rage.”

The former employee recounted how they told the ethics staffers that Spartz had told them in late March on a phone call, “I would rather die than not complete a task. Can you give me that same level of commitment?” A second former staffer heard Spartz make that comment.

Hazelwood said Spartz “did not ask anyone to die” and that she “does not ask for personal chores or staff to cook her dinners.”

Spartz’s mercurial two terms in Congress have been marked by high staff turnover, sharp criticism of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the two years since Russia’s invasion and, ultimately, her recanting of future support of aid for Ukraine, her country of birth.

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