ST. LOUIS — Congresswoman Cori Bush, the progressive Democrat who has long described herself as a single mom, is no longer single.
Bush got hitched in a private ceremony in St. Louis last weekend, according to sources. 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.
Merritts, a veteran of the U.S. Army, has worked for Bush's campaign as a hired security guard. Campaign finance records show the Bush campaign has paid him $62,359 in direct payments in 2022. Most of the payments were listed for security services, while $2,359 of them were for cash reimbursements.
Merritts' social media posts show he traveled with Bush on her trips to her first inauguration in January 2021, to the Ed Sullivan Theater for her appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," and to Central America on a trip with a Congressional delegation.
The first direct campaign payments to Merritts were reported in 2022 after their relationship began.
Bush began spending significant money on hiring security guards in August 2020. Between then and now, her campaign spending records show $627,088 in security-related expenses.
Conservative news outlets have skewered Bush as a hypocrite for spending so much money on private security guards while calling to defund the police. She and her supporters have defended the unusually high security expenses as a necessary defense against hostile threats of violence.
Beyond the regular partisan sniping in Congressional politics, these particular campaign expenses to an apparent fiancé have the potential to draw the scrutinizing eye of the FEC and the Congressional Ethics Office.
Federal election law and House ethics rules prohibit the use of campaign funds for personal use, but guidance issued from the Federal Election Commission has allowed some members of Congress to pay family members if they performed "bona fide service."
Bush would hardly be the first member of Congress to use campaign funds to enrich family. The practice, while relatively rare, appears to be a bipartisan practice, according to campaign finance reporting from election watchdogs at Open Secrets.
House ethics rules also ban members from borrowing campaign funds, which raises further questions about a campaign making direct payments to a partner.
"Such a transaction is permissible under the House Rules only if the campaign does not pay more than fair market value in the transaction," the pamphlet says.
However, each individual case can often come under review, and campaigns are expected to keep specific itemized records to justify questionable expenses.
"Campaign funds are not to be used to enhance a Member's lifestyle, or to pay a Member's personal obligations," the rules say. "Members have wide discretion in determining what constitutes a bona fide campaign or political purpose to which campaign funds and resources may be devoted, but Members have no discretion whatsoever to convert campaign funds to personal use."
Campaign finance records show Bush spent the majority of security funds to hire a St. Louis-based firm, though their relationship with Merritts is unknown.
Agents for P.E.A.C.E. Security, LLC, could not be reached for comment.
Bush's campaign security expenses made national news two years ago when some local law enforcement officers lost their government jobs while taking on side work for her.
The Associated Press previously reported that two St. Louis sheriff's deputies who worked secondary jobs providing security for Bush were fired from the sheriff's office in 2021. But Sheriff Vernon Betts said at the time that the deputies were fired for failing to get approval for their moonlighting jobs, not for whom they worked.
Bush’s chief of staff, Abbas Alawieh, on Monday released the following statement:
“With heartfelt congratulations, I am happy to confirm that Congresswoman Cori Bush married the love of her life, Cortney Merritts, this month. Mr. Merritts, a veteran of the U.S. Army and a security professional, has been Congresswoman Bush’s partner since before her Congressional tenure and is not employed by her Congressional office. Our team has come to know and appreciate Mr. Merritts as a loving and caring Congressional spouse.
“Those who know the Congresswoman personally and have followed her inspiring story know that she is a survivor of multiple forms of violence, including intimate partner violence. That she has married someone who supports her in all that she does, including as Representative of the incredible people of St. Louis, is cause for great celebration. Our team hopes that everyone will join us in celebrating the Congresswoman during this joyous time while respecting her privacy as she and her husband begin this new chapter together.”