Wife of former GOP Rep. Stutzman eyes Statehouse bid

The wife of a former Indiana congressman who came under ethics investigation for spending campaign contributions on lavish hotels, meals and at least one family trip may soon announce that she will run for an open legislative seat.

Christy Stutzman, spouse of former Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman, posted to Facebook on Wednesday that she is considering running for an Indiana House seat representing parts of Elkhart County that GOP state Rep. Wes Culver is giving up.

"Sometimes life surprises you and opportunities come that you don't seek or expect. I would like to ask for your prayers and support as I consider running for State Representative, District 49," Christy Stutzman wrote on Facebook. "… Marlin and I are making it a matter of prayer and would appreciate your thoughts as we prepare for the road ahead."

Her entry into the 2018 race would mark a return of the prominent Stutzman name to Indiana politics, but is almost certain to come with baggage.

Marlin Stutzman represented the northeast part of the state in the Indiana House, the state Senate and Congress before his GOP primary bid for Senate fizzled in 2016 amid ethics concerns over the family's use of campaign donations for their own expenses.

Christy Stutzman could not be reached Friday. In a brief phone interview, Marlin Stutzman said "there's really not a whole lot to talk about yet" but added that a decision would be made sometime in the coming weeks. He declined to comment further.

Christy Stutzman's choice of Facebook as a venue for voicing her interest in the seat is curious.

She has a cultivated presence in Indiana GOP and social conservative circles on the social media platform. But her prior use of Facebook, where she posted photos of a 2015 "family vacation" to California that was paid for with campaign funds, is what led to a 2016 Associated Press investigation that sparked the ethics probe.

The California visit represented just a small part of the over $300,000 in flights, vehicle charges, meals and hotel stays Marlin Stutzman's campaign fund paid for during his six years in Congress, the AP found.

In depositions, both Stutzmans insisted the California trip for them and their two sons was political in nature and a legitimate campaign expense. They say that they met with several fundraisers and joined constituents on a pilgrimage to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

Independent congressional ethics investigators disagreed. They ultimately concluded in a report that the family's use of campaign contributions for personal expenses likely broke the law. No action was taken against Stutzman by the Republican-led House ethics committee. By the time the findings of the probe were released, Stutzman was on his way out of public office after losing the Senate primary to now-Sen. Todd Young.

In the year since leaving office, property records show the family sold their Alexandria, Virginia, home for $900,000 in May and recently purchased a home in the eastern Elkhart County district where Christy Stutzman is contemplating a bid. It is unclear to what extent the Stutzmans are still involved in a Fredericksburg, Virginia, bridal shop they co-owned with Christy Stutzman's sister and brother-in-law, Gabe Rivera.

Rivera was previously paid $170,000 in campaign funds by Marlin Stutzman to work as his chief fundraiser despite his limited experience in the field, the AP previously reported.

In October, Christy Stutzman registered to vote in the district where they now live, according to state voting records. Marlin Stutzman has yet to register there, records indicate.

While the district lies outside their traditional power base, it is close and both Stutzmans are well known in local GOP circles. Culver, who currently holds the seat, did not respond to a request for comment Friday about whether he supports Stutzman's pursuit of the seat.

If she decides to run, it would not be Christy Stutzman's first foray into politics. She was a driving force behind her husband's former political career and previously angled to become Indiana's committeewoman on the Republican National Committee, one of two such positions the state holds on the committee.

She lost that bid to Marsha Coats, the wife of former Sen. Dan Coats, who recently stepped down from the position.

Stutzman is a formally trained singer who once taught fine arts and is known for her renditions of "God Bless America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner."

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