Blog — Heath Shuler
Late last year, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) found reason to believe then-Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) had illegally held campaign events on House property. The OCE’s case was based on Rep. Reyes’ Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, in which he reported expenditures for meals in the members’ dining room as “campaign meetings.” Rep. Reyes claimed this was a filing error and the meals were “officially connected.”
CREW wondered whether other members might also have reported campaign expenses for meals in the members’ dining room so we checked. It turns out many members have reported similar transactions, suggesting the rules meant to keep campaigning out of the Capitol may not be effective.
CREW’s review of campaign finance records found that over the past two campaign cycles, at least 12 other members — eight Republicans and four Democrats — reported campaign expenditures in the members’ dining room, leaving them open to charges similar to those against Rep. Reyes. The top spenders were Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH).
In total, CREW’s research reveals 146 campaign committees and political action committees (PACs) reported spending a collective $135,806 in the members’ dining room over the past four years. Many of these expenses appear to be political. For example:
- Former Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK) spent $218 on “dinner with supporter.”
- Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) spent $334 on “donor development.”
- Former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) spent $330 on an “annual fly-in dinner” and $141 on “contributors thank you.”
- Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) spent $251 on “fundraising meals.”
- Former Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) spent $363 on “cand. entertain (fundraising).”
- Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) spent $44 on “contributor appreciation.”
Federal election law allows members to use campaign funds for expenses related to their official duties, including paying for meals in the members’ dining room. House rules, however, are much stricter. For instance, members cannot use House rooms or offices for events that are campaign-related or political in nature. More broadly, the rules only allow members to use campaign funds for “bona fide campaign or political purposes.” The examples listed above raise questions about whether or not members violated House rules, but more importantly, they highlight how little oversight there is of campaign spending.
CREW’s Family Affair report, released earlier this year, looked at ways members of the House used their position to benefit themselves and their families, many of which involved campaign funds. For instance, CREW found Rep. Aaron Schock’s (R-IL) campaign had spent $1,136 on a five-star hotel in Greece, and $319 on a P90X workout video. Rep. Schock later said those expenses were billed to the campaign by mistake, and he amended his filings and repaid the money for the hotel. Rep. Don Young’s (R-AK) campaign committee used to routinely pay for exotic hunting expeditions disguised as fundraisers. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) spent thousands of campaign dollars on a family trip to Scotland, abuse so blatant he is now under investigation by the House Ethics Committee.
The complicated rules governing campaign spending and, more importantly, weak enforcement by the FEC and the House and Senate ethics committees show how little oversight of members’ campaign spending there really is. It seems Rep. Reyes was just unlucky in catching OCE’s attention.