In the Chicago area, a closely contested congressional election between two members of the same party has devolved into accusations of ethical improprieties.
Representative Sean Casten has accused Democratic colleague Representative Marie Newman of ethical infractions in connection with the latter’s legal battle with Palestinian American professor Iymen Chehade.
Casten has asked that Newman provide the terms of an unreported legal settlement she reached with Chehade in 2021 over an employment agreement made in 2018, before she was elected to Congress.
In a statement, Casten said, “I originally ran for Congress in 2018, in part in response to Donald Trump’s ethical failures.” “Public service is a trust, and our democracy is imperiled when voters perceive that elected officials are putting our own interests ahead of the public good.” “Ethics is important.” He accused Newman of “bribery” in the statement.
Casten and Newman presently represent distinct districts in Illinois, the 6th and 3rd, but the latter decided to challenge the former in the Democratic primary for the redesigned 6th Congressional District after recent border modifications.
Last year, the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics, a neutral independent institution, investigated charges that Newman promised Chehade a job in exchange for him not running against her. At the completion of its probe, the board did not directly accuse Newman of “bribery,” but it did propose in October that the House Ethics Committee look into the matter further, which it has done.
Before Newman was elected, Chehade counseled the Newman campaign on Palestinian rights and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. He launched a lawsuit after she was elected in 2020, accusing her of breaking a written agreement to hire him if she won the election.
The complaint was settled out of court in June of last year, but the facts were kept confidential due to a non-disclosure agreement. Chehade started working for Newman soon after the matter was settled, and he still does. In addition, he is standing for Congress in the newly redrawn 3rd District.
Newman is a progressive Democrat who supports Palestinians’ right to peace and justice. As a result, she has the majority of Palestinian Americans in her district on her side. The reconfigured 6th District now contains the country’s highest population of Palestinian Americans.
Newman denied any wrongdoing and accused Casten of suspected ethical and financial improprieties in a statement to Arab News, citing a federal inquiry into his financial and business operations.
“Voters should be aware of several recent lawsuits involving Rep. Casten, after he was accused of attempting to enrich himself at the expense of others, as well as the current federal investigation in which Rep. Casten is accused of committing a federal felony by illegally coordinating his campaign and his father’s super PAC against former female primary opponent Kelly Mazeski,” Newman said.
A super PAC is a political action committee that is allowed to raise unlimited campaign funds from businesses, unions, and people but is not allowed to donate to or coordinate with political parties or candidates directly.
“Rep. Casten never answered questions about his current and ongoing FEC (Federal Election Commission) complaint and investigation into the allegation of a federal felony in which he, his campaign, and his father’s super PAC illegally coordinated to oust a progressive female primary opponent, all under one roof,” Newman continued.
Casten’s alleged wrongdoing, according to her admirers, has gone unnoticed by the local mainstream media.
Newman is a supporter of initiatives to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in a peaceful manner. She voted in favor of congressional proposals aimed at tying advances in Palestinian human rights to US foreign aid to Israel, angering right-wing and pro-Israeli groups in the US. She also voted against a $1 billion financing bill for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system last year, which was passed.
Several Jewish organizations, including the Democratic Majority for Israel, the Jewish Democrat Council of America, and J Street, have endorsed Casten.
Casten promotes the kind of “liberal Zionist lines” that do not enhance the lives of Palestinians who have been suffering under Israeli military occupation since 1967, according to Tarek Khalil, a Palestinian American activist from the 6th District.
“When it comes to advocating for Palestinian rights,” he continued, Newman “has an established record.”
As a woman and a progressive democrat, Tammy Georgiou, a district voter, told the Arab News that Casten’s past and demeanor in relation to his prior female primary opponent made her feel “uncomfortable.”
“As a woman voter, Casten’s attacks on progressive women candidates are concerning,” she added.