In a stunning moment of political theater, Republican Matt Mowers confronted Rep. Chris Pappas live during a televised debate with allegations of a potentially improper relationship between the congressman and a D.C. lobbyist.
More problematic for Pappas is his denial of the relationship in response, a denial that appears to be untrue.
The dustup on the WMUR-hosted debate Wednesday night began when Pappas attacked Mowers for “cashing in after he left the White House. He’s working for the big drug companies and D.C. lobbying firms.”
Mowers fired back.
“Congressman, you want to talk about relationships with corporate special interests? With all due respect, you’ve been dating a corporate lobbyist who actually was lobbying on behalf of Amazon at the time,” Mowers said, “You were dating a corporate lobbyist. And the fact of the matter is you never disclosed. In fact, there are actually rules and regulations. You have to disclose that, especially gifts from lobbyists to the House Ethics Committee, something you’ve never done.”
Pappas flatly denied the charge, calling the allegation “outrageous” and “disgusting.”
“How dare you,” Pappas said. “That is not true, Matt. This is an outrageous charge.”
Pappas’ denial was unequivocal, denying both the relationship and any notion of impropriety. But his tune changed, however, after the Mowers campaign released a set of documents that appear to substantiate the claim that Pappas had a personal relationship with Vann Bentley, a former Policy Counsel for Amazon. According to his LinkedIn page, Bentley worked in that position until November, 2019.
Pappas entered Congress in January, 2019.
Included in the documents from the Mowers campaign is a photo of Bentley with Pappas in London together, a photo they claim comes from Bentley’s Instagram account. (Bentley has put his Instagram and Twitter accounts into “private” mode.)
The campaign also listed 10 votes on Amazon-related issues they claim Rep. Pappas has cast in favor of the tech giant. Four of those votes, however, were cast after Bentley left Amazon.
The Pappas campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment. However, Pappas’ political director Sam Sands posted tweets during the debate denying Mowers’ claims and calling them “trash.” Sands also retweeted a message calling Mowers “a piece of s**t.”
But, Mowers tells NHJournal, Rep. Pappas actually confirmed the relationship to him after the debate.
“The Congressman confronted me after the debate, and he was livid,” Mowers said. “But during our conversation, he confirmed the exact same relationship he had just denied on TV.”
And indeed, after the Mowers’ teams document dump, Pappas took to Twitter to denounce Mowers as despicable and accuse him of “gutter politics” in a series of tweets. But Pappas pointedly didn’t deny any of the specific assertions from Mowers.
Dating a lobbyist doesn’t in and of itself violate any laws or House rules. It does, however, create the potential for wrong-doing. For example, it was a major news story in 2015 when a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, Bill Shuster, was in a dating relationship with a lobbyist for the airline industry.
According to Roll Call, “the House Ethics Committee has established detailed guidelines on gifts ranging from tangible items to services, including tickets, meals and lodging. Members are permitted to accept gifts of personal friendship. But a gift worth more than $250 must be approved by the committee — in writing — before a member may accept the gift under the personal friendship exception.”
Pappas received a $250 campaign contribution from Bentley, but it was during his 2018 campaign.
Even if it’s real, as the evidence currently suggests, it’s possible the relationship between Pappas and the Amazon lobbyist isn’t newsworthy. But Pappas’ decision to deny the relationship live on TV during a political debate certainly is, if it’s proven that Pappas was lying.
One sign Pappas is in political trouble is that he’s suggesting the attack is homophobic. “Members of the LGBTQ+ community have always been held to a different standard when running for office and Mr. Mowers’s baseless attacks perpetuate those same harmful lines of attack.”
But this is obviously untrue. Refusing to discuss this potential conflict of interest, one that has created problems for other members of Congress, simply because Pappas is gay would be a “different standard.” And Mowers never mentioned the name or sex of Pappas’ alleged partner at any time during the debate.
“Nobody is less interested in Chris Pappas’ dating life than me,” Mowers told NHJournal.
“What I am interested in is transparency. The congressman has been voting on behalf of corporate special interests. He’s been funded by corporate special interests. And, you know, the folks in New Hampshire have a right to know why he was voting the way he is, given his ties to corporate special interests.”