This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.
A far-right Pennsylvania state senator is the subject of a new ethics complaint that alleges he helped incite the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Ethics complaints against state lawmakers are rare, according to a source with knowledge of the process, which is cloaked in secrecy and seldom results in a public resolution.
State Sen. Art Haywood (D., Montgomery) filed the complaint against colleague Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) with the chamber’s Ethics Committee at an undisclosed date in January, his spokesperson told Spotlight PA. The complaint is based on a report from a national watchdog organization that documents Mastriano’s apparent efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
At a news conference, Haywood said that Mastriano used his “Senate-derived bully pulpit” to aid Trump’s attempt to unlawfully secure the presidency while violating his oath of office to protect and uphold both the state and federal Constitutions.
“The Senate is a place in Pennsylvania that must represent integrity and commitment to public service and law,” he added.
Mastriano has called the complaint a stunt and has consistently denied wrongdoing in the aftermath of the 2020 election. First elected in a 2019 special election, the GOP state senator unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2022 on a platform of Christian nationalist politics.
It’s up to a committee of six state senators to decide what to do next about the complaint. Here’s what you need to know about the process, possible punishments, and more:
What is the Ethics Committee?
Both the state House and Senate have ethics committees. Their role is to accept complaints, investigate them, and suggest punishments for legislators who violate chamber rules.
The process differs in each chamber.
In the state Senate, complaints may allege “unethical conduct in violation of a Senate Rule, statute or constitutional provision governing the ethical conduct of a Senator.” That could include using tobacco products in this body’s chamber or committee rooms, taking bribes, or using state resources for political purposes.
The chamber rules do not specify who can file a complaint, mandating only that the complaints be submitted in writing; “be sworn or affirmed by the person filing the complaint”; and “detail the alleged unethical conduct in question and specify the Rule, statute or constitutional provision allegedly violated.”
Once filed, the complaint is considered by a six-person committee that is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans appointed by the state Senate president pro tempore.
What is Mastriano accused of?
A spokesperson for Haywood told Spotlight PA that as of Jan. 12, his office “cannot speak” on the complaint “until we receive guidance or a response from the [Ethics] committee.”
However, the spokesperson added that a report from the Washington, D.C.-based good-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, “covers the basis of the complaint.”
The report, titled “The case for expelling Doug Mastriano from office,” was released in April 2023 and documents Mastriano’s alleged efforts to aid the storming of the U.S. Capitol.
That includes using campaign dollars to charter buses to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021; joining Trump’s supporters “within the restricted area of the Capitol grounds … before ultimately leaving”; and apparently playing a role in Trump’s “fake electors” scheme.
“There is compelling evidence that Mastriano is disqualified under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment,” CREW’s report says. “He should be investigated and, if the evidence is substantiated, held accountable by the Pennsylvania Legislature, including possible expulsion from the Chamber.”
CREW has been involved in other efforts to hold Republican officeholders accountable for the events of Jan. 6. For instance, the group helped argue the court case that kicked Trump off Colorado’s 2024 ballot, citing the 14th Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear Trump’s appeal.
Haywood said nine months passed between the release of the CREW report and the filing of his complaint because “that is the amount of time it took to put the evidence together in a way that I feel comfortable advancing.”
In a Jan. 2 statement released after Haywood announced the complaint, Mastriano deemed it a “partisan PR stunt” and called CREW a “far left activist organization.”
“I do not need a lecture on the U.S. Constitution. I volunteered to defend it while serving our nation for over 30 years as an officer in the U.S. Army,” Mastriano concluded. “This stunt will not intimidate or silence me.”
State Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) and Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) declined to comment on the complaint.