When news emerged in mid-2021 that Missouri Democratic Rep. Cori Bush, a member of the hard left, so-called “squad” in the House of Representatives and an outspoken proponent of the “defund the police” movement, had spent $30,000 on security in just the first quarter of 2021 alone, it reeked of hypocrisy.
That smell has never gone away, but now a new odor can be added to the mix: the subtle whiff of corruption.
According to KSDK-TV in St. Louis, Bush — who has now spent a grand total of at least $627,088 on security out of her campaign funds — married Army veteran and (you’re never going to believe this) personal bodyguard Cortney Merritts in a private ceremony last weekend.
“Marriage records filed with the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds show Bush signed her marriage license in a pact with Cortney Merritts on Feb. 11, a few days before their wedding,” the NBC affiliate reported.
And yet, despite the fact that Bush is arguably the biggest name in Missouri politics aside from GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, even the station didn’t report on the nuptials until Sunday, at least a week after they happened.
Why? For starters, they appear to have been secret. Then, we have for the reason behind the secrecy: The fact that campaign finance records show Bush paid her new husband $62,359 directly in campaign funds in 2022 alone, mostly for security services.
While it’s unclear when he was first retained and the first direct payments to Merritts were federally reported in 2022, KSDK reported that “Merritts’ social media posts show he traveled with Bush on her trips to her first inauguration in January 2021, to New York City’s Ed Sullivan Theater for her appearance on ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,’ and to Central America on a trip with a Congressional delegation.”
(On Tuesday morning, clicks on the social media posts that are linked to in the KSDK report got the message: “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now.”)
Bush has previously accused those who have scrutinized her security expenses of wanting her dead.
“They would rather I die? You would rather me die? Is that what you want to see? You want to see me die?” she told CBS News in 2021 after being questioned about her security spending.
“You know, because that could be the alternative. So either I spent $70,000 on private security over the last few months, and I’m here standing now and able to speak,” she continued.
“I have private security because my body is worth being on this planet right now. I have private security because they, the white supremacist narrative that they drive into this country. The fact that they don’t care that this black woman that has put her life on the line, they can’t match my energy first of all. This black woman who puts her life on the line. They don’t care that I could be taken out of here. They actually probably are OK with that, but this is the thing: I won’t let them get that off. You can’t get that off. I’m going to make sure I have security because I know I have had attempts on my life and I have too much work to do. There are too many people that need help right now for me to allow that.”
She went on to claim that she’d had police officers threaten her, a convenient way for her to claim that her payments for private security was different from her calls to defund the police who provide security for everyday citizens.
Despite this — and despite the fact that the “squad” is often described as a group of legislators of color, mostly women, who are under constant threat from any kind of Republican messaging that calls attention to their hypocrisy — Bush’s spending on security has far outpaced what other “squad” members have spent.
Combined, Bush and Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — the “squad” when broken down to its individual Voltron-like components — spent $325,000 on private security with campaign funds in 2021, according to federal records.
However, that number might deceive you regarding just how much was being spent by each “squad” member, since roughly $200,000 of that was being spent by Bush alone. This is despite the fact that conservatives have frequently been told that calling attention to the numerous failings of Rep. Omar — including her frequent anti-Semitic outbursts — is to invite grave public danger upon her specifically.
Now, I concede that when you spend that much on personal security, your personal life is a lot more likely to resemble the plot of “The Bodyguard” than someone who doesn’t. However, it certainly could give one the impression Bush was potentially enriching herself with campaign funds by employing someone she was in a romantic relationship with, something that’s against House ethics rules and could end in a Federal Election Commission investigation, KSDK reported.
The problem is that rules violations involving self-enrichment by hiring those you share a romantic or familial relationship with are notoriously difficult to prove, and Bush wouldn’t be the only one in Congress who’s gotten away with doing it. Heck, she’s not even the only member of the “squad” who would have gotten away with it.
Rep. Omar paid nearly $3 million in campaign dollars to the E Street Group, a consulting firm owned by her lover-turned-husband, Tim Mynett. While it’s difficult to say when her relationship with Mynett began, Mynett’s ex-wife alleged she was informed of it in April of 2019 when he announced he was in a relationship with the congresswoman.
This spending continued until after the pair was married, but Omar contended she wasn’t breaking the rules because she was paying fair market value for his services, which makes the arrangement legit under House ethics rules.
Omar told The New York Times that cutting ties with the political consulting firm “would be the stupid thing to do. You don’t stop using the service of people who are doing good work because somebody thinks it means something else.”
However, the timing of her spending with the group makes that questionable. Most of the money Omar spent with the firm in the 2018 election cycle, when she was first elected, began after the primary was over. Given the political leanings of Omar’s district, the only thing a Democratic nominee need spend money on after the primary is the party the night of the general election. In 2019 — despite being basically safely ensconced in the seat as a sinecure-for-life and it being an election off-year — her spending with Mynett’s firm increased.
Democrat California Rep. Maxine Waters, meanwhile, has been a serial abuser of this perk to bestow jobs upon other family members, including $80,000 to her daughter during fiscal year 2021 and $250,000 during the 2020 election cycle. Between 2003 and 2020, her daughter had been paid roughly $1.13 million.
And this is just her daughter. In 2004, it was first reported that Waters’ family members had made over $1 million off of her, either directly or through causes connected to her. In addition to Waters’ daughter, her husband and her son were also involved, according to the Los Angeles Times. This, again, despite the fact Waters has never faced credible opposition, either from within her own party or the Republicans (or the Whigs, for that matter; given how long she’s been in Congress, that’s worth clarification).
So, yes, despite the fact that this reeks of corruption in the worst possible way, don’t expect to ever see Cori Bush face serious repercussions for it. However, we may finally know why she feels the compulsive need to spend beaucoup campaign cash on private security — and it doesn’t involve some secret assassination plot being hatched by and police officers.