If Taxpayers Don’t Pay, Someone Else Does

Mick Mulvaney’s first TV ads have hit the air, and his main bragging point seems to be that he’s never taken a taxpayer funded trip. When that’s your biggest accomplishment as a Congressman, color me unimpressed.

Taxpayer funded trips may sound wasteful, but most of them are not sending members of Congress to Disneyland and Bora Bora. Instead, they’re fact-finding and diplomatic missions, intended to create overseas markets for our products, bolster alliances, or obtain new insight on important issues. Insight and diplomacy don’t rank highly on Mick Mulvaney’s list of talents, so his disinterest in improving them shouldn’t come as a great surprise.

Here's FDR taking one of those taxpayer-funded trips again.
Here’s FDR taking one of those taxpayer-funded trips again.

The most important reason trips for members of Congress are funded by the people they represent is to ensure that when they do travel, they don’t do it on the tab of special interests or those that would line their campaign coffers. These so-called “junkets” still happen, and Mulvaney hasn’t minded helping himself to them.

Take, for instance, his June 2014 trip to sunny Santa Barbara. With highs averaging 71 degrees that time of year, it’s a lovely place to spend a long weekend. There’s gourmet cuisine, sunshine, sailing, sandy beaches — and more rich people than almost anywhere else in America. Forbes reports that 11 of the 400 richest Americans (all billionaires) live in Santa Barbara, 11 times more than the number of billionaires in the entire state of South Carolina. According to CNNMoney, only three towns in the entire country have a larger percentage of million-dollar homes than Santa Barbara.

Why take a taxpayer-funded trip where you could learn something when you could hang out here?
Why take a taxpayer-funded trip where you could learn something when you could hang out here?

Why was Mulvaney there? Finding facts? Finding wealthy investors who want to bring jobs to South Carolina? Finding new markets for South Carolina products or learning to be a more effective representative?

Nope. Raising campaign cash from lobbyists and the PACs (political action committees) they work for.

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Fundraising firm Gula Graham advertised the presence of Mick Mulvaney and three other members of Congress during their “Santa Barbara Getaway,” June 2-5, 2014. To attend, and get some face time, Gula Graham had a “suggested contribution” to Mulvaney for Congress of $2,500 per PAC or $1,500 per individual. For those attending, they reserved a block of rooms at a Four Seasons Resort, The Biltmore Santa Barbara, “at a special rate of $485 per night (+ taxes & fees).” I’m sure you’re as disappointed as I am to have missed out on that bargain.

It may not be home, but the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara will do for a long weekend.
It may not be home, but the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara will do for a long weekend.
According to TripAdvisor, the spa at the Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara is the best in the country. Hope Mick and his lobbyist friends made time for at least one massage.
According to TripAdvisor, the spa at the Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara is the best in the country. Hope Mick and his lobbyist friends made time for at least one massage.

It doesn’t look like too many individuals forked over $1,500 to hang out with Mr. Mulvaney in the Southern California sunshine: the only $1,500 donation reported in his July 2014 FEC filing came from a man from Rock Hill. Corporate PACs lined up to give $2500 during this time though. There were 18 different donations of exactly $2500 (to say nothing of the many donations of higher and lower amounts) in May and June 2014 from PACs representing the following trade groups and companies:

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants

American Resort Development Association

Association for Advanced Life Underwriting

CME Group, Inc.

Commercial Real Estate Finance Council

Duke Energy Corporation

Exxon Mobil Corporation

Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America

J.P. Morgan Chase

Liberty Mutual Insurance Company

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company

Morgan Stanley

National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts

National Restaurant Association

Property Casualty Insurers Association of America

Grant Thornton LLP

Title Industry PAC

UBS Americas Inc.

Mulvaney collected more than $114,000 in special interest PAC money in that quarter of 2014 alone, compared to just over $9000 in money from actual people. We don’t know how many lobbyists joined him at the Four Seasons. Hopefully those that did had fun.

Any trip to Santa Barbara is incomplete without taking in a polo match.
Any trip to Santa Barbara is incomplete without taking in a polo match.

Invitations to fundraising junkets like this one are usually closely controlled by the DC firms who get paid to raise campaign cash, so it’s something of a miracle that news about the Santa Barbara Getaway was even leaked out. Mulvaney travels a good deal (he was recently spotted by a friend on a flight from CLT to Dallas wearing some remarkably garish golf pants that Mulvaney called “my pajamas”). If voters aren’t paying for his trips, it’s fair to wonder: who is?

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