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    Feeding At The Campaign Trough

    By Dwight L. Morris
    August 5, 1996

    One look at Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Bud Shuster's campaign finance documents is enough to make one long to be a federal auditor. A skeptic might conclude that Shuster is largely living off his campaign committee.

    During the first eighteen months of the 1996 election cycle, Shuster's campaign has paid for 124 meals and food purchases costing $200 or less, and dozens of slightly more expensive meals. Listing them as "supplies for political meetings" on his campaign documents, Shuster used campaign funds to pay for four grocery bills of $22.80, $29.50, $29.61, and $48.22 at a Giant supermarket in Alexandria, Va. He had breakfast at the International House of Pancakes in Arlington, Va., writing the $15.44 tab off to his campaign as a "fund-raising activity." Another "fund-raising activity" at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Arlington cost the campaign $20.28 – that's a sandwich and a beer at the Ritz. The Warehouse Bar & Grill in Alexandria was apparently the sight of another fund-raising activity – at least that's what he put down when he submitted the $49.12 bill to his campaign for payment. Five bills at the Alexandria Pastry Shop & Café, ranging from $31.01 to $173.83, were described as "political meetings." Two dinners at Landini Brothers, a moderately-priced restaurant in Alexandria, cost $89.65 and $101.30 and were written off to the campaign as – you probably guessed it – "fund-raising activities." In all, Shuster has billed his campaign for 48 meals and food purchases in Alexandria and Arlington since January 1, 1995.

    Not coincidentally, Shuster has frequently stayed at the Alexandria home of his former aide and long-time family friend Ann Eppard. The campaign pays Eppard a $3,000 a month salary to serve as Shuster's political advisor and chief fund-raising consultant, despite the fact that she is a transportation lobbyist whose clients have business before the House Transportation Committee, which Shuster just happens to head. Although Shuster does not have a campaign car in Washington, his campaign pays to gas up cars in the Washington, D.C. area, which surely has no connection to the fact that Eppard frequently does double duty as his driver. When Shuster's relationship with Eppard boiled over into an ethical nightmare earlier this year, one of the first questions he posed to the Ethics committee was whether he could bill his campaign for meals the two of them ate when working late on campaign issues.

    Shuster certainly has not limited his dining pleasure to northern Virginia. A $10.97 "political meeting" at a Big Boy Restaurant in Washington, D.C. was just one of the 24 meals he consumed in the nation's capital for less than $200 during the first 18 months of the 1996 election cycle. The campaign also paid for "political meetings" costing $41 and $81 at Armand's Chicago Pizzeria near Capitol Hill. Kelly's Irish Times, a bar near Capitol Hill, was the site of yet another of Shuster's "political meetings," an affair which cost the campaign $136 and looked much more like a staff beer-bash than a thought-provoking strategy session.

    And none of this is new. Shuster has been doing this for years. During the 1990 election cycle, Shuster's campaign spent roughly $1,029 a week on meals – that's $147 per day, every day, for 104 weeks.

    During the 1992 election cycle, Shuster spent $70,913 on meals that were unrelated to his fund raising, including $7,218 on seventeen meals at Tortilla Coast, a Mexican restaurant near the Capitol. Between January 1, 1991 and December 31, 1992, Shuster billed his campaign $8,054 for twenty-four meals from Sutton Place Gourmet in Alexandria, $1,295 for five dinners at Terrazza Restaurant in Alexandria (a favorite of his in the 1994 and 1996 election cycles, as well), and $789 for four dinners at the Chart House, a restaurant overlooking the Potomac River in Alexandria. Bills at Alexandria Pastry during this two-year period amounted to $1,731.

    Not counting dozens of meals consumed in Washington, D.C., Shuster billed his campaign for 74 meal and food purchases within a 20-minute drive of Eppard's Alexandria home during the 1994 election cycle, and stretching credulity well beyond the breaking point, described every one of them as fund-raisers, including 21 bills of less than $200 at Terraza's, Sutton Place Gourmet, and Alexandria Pastry. Shuster is truly in a culinary class by himself.

    That does not mean that he's alone in using campaign funds for what appear to be personal dinners with family and friends. During the six years leading up to his reelection in 1992, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye spent $106,894 on restaurant meals that had nothing to do with his fund-raising activities. For example, while Inouye reported political action committee and individual donations totaling only $4,100 in 1989, one meal at Germaine's restaurant in Washington, D.C. that year cost the campaign $1,250.

    Between January 1, 1987 and December 31, 1992, Inouye's campaign paid a total of $26,120 for 403 meals that cost less than $200 – 183 in Hawaii, 168 in Washington, D.C., 46 in Maryland near his suburban home, and six in suburban northern Virginia. Among the meals Inouye billed to his campaign were a $12.50 repast at Szechuan Garden in Rockville, Md., a $58.97 meal at Mikado Food in Washington, and a $22.59 meal at Wo Fat Restaurant in Honolulu.

    In Washington, people like Inouye, former Illinois Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, who's now doing time for, among other things, embezzling campaign funds, and Shuster give a whole new meaning to the phrase, "let's do lunch."

    This column originally appeared on the PoliticsNow Web site.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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