U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney launches re-election campaign, answers questions about business ties

Alexandra Glorioso
Francis Rooney

U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney’s family-owned construction company has been awarded $41.2 million in federal contracts since he announced his first bid for office in May 2016, federal contracting data show. But, it has come at a big cost to his campaign.

To comply with federal conflict of interest laws governing members of Congress, Rooney’s campaign has paid the D.C. law firm of Jones Day $134,103 since 2016 to advise him, Politico first reported. Only 21 campaigns in both the House and Senate reported more in legal fees than Rooney's over the same period.

“I wanted to make sure (the law firm) understood exactly what the companies did and exactly what they suggested that I not do,” Rooney said.

Rooney, who launched his re-election campaign Saturday in Bonita Springs, acknowledged he still owns Manhattan Construction along with his family. But, he said, he has removed himself from the business, and it’s now being run by his oldest son, Larry.

“I know some of their people but I don’t have anything to do with them,” Rooney, R-Naples, said of Manhattan. “I don’t communicate with them about the company. I don’t get any reports.”

Manhattan is just one part of a complex family business that also involves real estate and development, oil and gas and both domestic and international banking. All of those businesses are controlled by a $1 billion-plus investment company called Rooney Holdings. That company is equally owned by Rooney, his wife and their three kids. Rooney said he couldn’t remove himself from ownership of Rooney Holdings because of “tax issues” but, practically, he’s no longer involved.

He said no longer being involved means: “I resign from all the boards, I don’t get any information, and I’m going about my business being a congressman, which is plenty of work for me.”

In addition, Rooney said he doesn’t collect a paycheck from his businesses, but that if the companies do well, his “stock goes up.”

He said that he has to report his “percentage interest in every trade” to the House Committee on Ethics, which, in part, is why his legal tab is so high.

Rooney said he paid the fees early on to understand his potential conflicts and then communicated regularly with the committee to avoid any problems.

In addition to resigning from the internal boards for his companies, Rooney said major boards he resigned from include the Panama Canal Advisory Commission; the board of Helmerich & Payne, which does drilling for oil and gas; Laredo Petroleum; and a bank.

Having distanced himself from the management of his businesses, Rooney said he can focus on what’s important to the residents of congressional District 19, including “getting money for the Everglades, fighting ISIS and defending conservative principles.”

At his campaign event Saturday at the Elks Lodge, volunteers passed out petitions while the congressman and his wife, Kathleen, chatted for nearly two hours over barbecue with Lee and Collier County residents, politicians and grassroots activists. In a short speech, Rooney referred to his more than 150 supporters as a "united team."

Having a unified message on Everglades restoration to procure more federal funds has been a major priority for the freshman congressman.

"He's connected, representative of his constituents and is doing a great job for Southwest Florida," said Mike Lyster, the former chairman for Collier County's Republican party, who attended the event.