But according to a report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, it appears that lawmakers may frequently mix the two over repasts in the members’ dining room. A dozen current and former House members described meals there in filings with the Federal Election Commission covering the last two election cycles as “campaign”or “political,” CREW found.
Among current members, Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) reported spending $1,255 on such meals; Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), $801; Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), $493; Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), $306; Rep. Alan
Nunnelee (R-Miss.), $276; Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), $150; Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) $87; Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), $80; Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), $75; and Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), $69.
The Loop contacted all offices for comment, and some explained that there’s a problem of semantics, not ethics. Cuellar’s spokeswoman, for example, said the congressman’s campaign codes all meals paid for on the campaign credit card as “campaign meals.” Other campaigns apparently use a similar coding system, which is fine, but the tricky part is that no matter who picks up the tab, the business at hand can’t be about campaigning.
“The congressman has never used the members’ dining room for any unofficial business,” spokeswoman Lorraine Carrasco explained by e-mail. “All expenditures to the members’ dining room were for meals for interns, staff, constituents and visiting dignitaries in the performance of the congressman’s duties as a federal officeholder.”
A Wittman spokeswoman called the charge an “oversight” and said it would be corrected.
Still more members’ FEC filings described meals paid for by their campaigns in language that sounds as if politics could have been on the menu. Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), for example, spent $334 on meals described in filings as “donor development,” the report found.
A spokeswoman said that there had been a “clerical error”and that they should have been slugged “social events with constituents” — a perfectly fine use of campaign money.
CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan says the amount of campaign money spent in the dining room — some in apparent contravention of the ban — shows there’s little oversight or enforcement.
“There’s little incentive to follow the rules because no one is watching,” she says.