RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn responded on Friday to an ethics complaint filed against him by calling it “pathetic” as he faces criticism for a series of controversies.
American Muckrakers PAC, which is seeking to defeat Cawthorn in the upcoming primary election, filed the complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics, accusing Cawthorn of failing to disclose free housing, travel and loans to an aide, Stephen Smith.
The filing includes cell phone video where Cawthorn and Smith are seen in a car together joking with each other.
“I feel the passion and desire and would like to see a naked body beneath my hands,” Cawthorn says.
The two laugh and Smith replies, “Me too.” He then reaches toward Cawthorn’s crotch as the video ends.
The Daily Mail first reported on the video and complaint. Luke Ball, a spokesman for Cawthorn, told the Daily Mail that Cawthorn and Smith are cousins.
The ethics complaint also includes screenshots of social media posts featuring the two and says Cawthorn and Smith “apparently live together.” The complaint calls for an investigation to determine if “any House Rules or statutes were violated by the relationship.”
The complaint also mentions an incident earlier this week when Cawthorn was cited for having a gun at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. It was the second time an incident like that has happened.
In addition, the complaint cites a report this week by the Washington Examiner which prompted U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R) to call for an insider trading investigation into Cawthorn regarding cryptocurrency.
“When it starts to pile up and the guy doesn’t seem to understand that he’s breaking the rules, I think it’s time to let the authorities know and investigate it a little further,” said David Wheeler, president and co-founder of American Muckrakers PAC.
Cawthorn tweeted about the complaint Friday.
“I believe in some pretty aggressive government reforms. I want to change the GOP for the better, and I believe in America first. I can understand the establishment attacking those beliefs, but just digging up stuff from my early 20s to smear me is pathetic,” he writes.
Cawthorn faced criticism from his Republican colleagues last month for claiming he’d been invited to orgies and seen people working to combat drug addiction using cocaine.
He was also charged earlier this year with driving on a revoked license.
The series of controversies appears to be impacting his re-election prospects, according to a poll released Thursday by the Republican group GOPAC.
The organization has not endorsed a candidate in Cawthorn’s race but commissioned Differentiators Data to conduct polls about it in March and April of this year. Click here to view.
In March, 64 percent of Republican primary voters viewed him favorably compared to 29 percent who viewed him unfavorably. By late April, his approval rating dropped to 51 percent and his disapproval shot up to 44 percent.
The pollsters also found one of his primary challengers gaining ground on him.
In March, Cawthorn led the field with 49 percent of primary voters planning to back him. State Sen. Chuck Edwards was in second with 14 percent.
Now, 38 percent of voters are backing Cawthorn while Edwards has 21 percent planning to vote for him.
“First, by every metric, Cawthorn’s campaign trajectory is terrible. Every day seems to bring news of another self-inflicted wound. And the Congressman’s latest citation for carrying a loaded handgun into the Charlotte airport raises the prospect that he is intentionally engaging in behavior that places him in a negative light with voters,” a memo accompanying the poll reads.
Cawthorn is still in a position to win the primary though.
If a candidate in the race finishes in first place with at least 30 percent plus one vote they avoid a run-off.
Chris Cooper, an expert on state politics at Western Carolina University, says while it can be challenging to accurately poll a congressional primary, he thinks it’s clear that Cawthorn’s support is “waning.”
“Primary electorates are always hard to figure out, particularly in NC11 right now where unaffiliated is the largest category. And, there is a large movement (we’ll see how large) for folks to become unaffiliated and vote for anybody but Cawthorn in the Republican primary,” he said. “I think the reality is this is as unpredictable as a primary election can be.”
The American Muckrakers PAC encouraged Democratic voters to temporarily switch their voter registration to unaffiliated so they could vote in the Republican primary in an effort to defeat Cawthorn.
Wheeler, the co-founder of the PAC, said he still believes Cawthorn will win.
“I think there’s an immovable base that he has that doesn’t listen to logic, doesn’t listen to reason, doesn’t listen to the news,” he said. “We’ve got a couple surprises in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.”