Turner, a nine-term member who represents Southwest Ohio, already facing heightened scrutiny as it prepares for its toughest reunion campaign since being first elected in 2002. House Democrats are targeting their district, which was outpaced by 7 points in 2016 by President Donald Trump, and they were eliminated last quarter by his Democratic opponent, Desri Timms.
In a statement, Turner denied any indecency and called the story “a political hit job started by my opponent”.
“All the expenses of Mike Turner or his team have always been legally and publicly reported and reported in Congress in 18 years,” said campaign manager Mason Di Palma. “Our campaign organization spending is consistent with supporting our community and raising funds for reunions, regularly spending significantly less than other senior members of Congress.”
Members are allowed to spend meals that are incidental to their role as a candidate or an officeholder, such as meals for campaign events, funds, or strategy sessions. But the frequency and total of his expenses warned good government groups that he could misuse his election funds.
“One can come up with a reasonable explanation,” Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizenship for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog organization. “But overall, it looks suspicious.”
The campaign typically costs $ 4,000 to $ 7,000 per quarter at various restaurants and describes them in their financial filings as “Food Food and Beverages”. Over a two-cycle period, 15 restaurants appear repeatedly in the report: the campaign expanded 43 visits to Young’s Chow, a Chinese restaurant on Capitol Hill; 30 trips to Momiji, Hibachi location in DC Chinatown; 23 trips to Tank’s Bar and Grill in Dayton, Ohio, and 17 trips to the Dayton Racquet Club, a prominent private club on the top floor of the Kettering Tower, the city’s tallest building.
“These expenses – especially restaurants – seem unusually luxurious,” said Adav Noti, a senior director at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center and a former attorney for the Federal Election Commission. “This relates to when an elected official consistently spends campaign money on fancy food because it means that the official big campaign donors are essentially subsidizing their lifestyles, and that the wealthier donors are the official real constituents Gives a lot of impact on price. “
Most of Turner’s expenses come from restaurants in Washington, DC and Ohio. But congressmen dined on Miami, New York and Boston on several occasions.
He has entered many luxury hotels for those few cities and others.
On December 26 last year, he reported spending $ 295 at Hotel Brussels, a four-star hotel in the Belgian capital. Turner revealed that she and her daughter traveled to the United Kingdom earlier that month on a trip organized by a conservative think tank. And he said that he is “extending the trip at personal expense” for less than a week during his personal journey.
After being contacted for comment for this story, Turner later amended his file to classify that expense as “meeting food and beverages” instead of “lodging”. He then said through a spokesman that, although the spending was legal, he would reimburse the campaign.
“The legitimate Brussels expenditure in question was improperly classified due to clerical error. Turner was returning from Afghanistan to a NATO meeting in Brussels, ”Di Palma said. “The campaign will file an amendment to the report to correct this clerical error. However, to avoid any further confusion, Mr. Turner has reimbursed the campaign for this expense. “Turner refused to answer questions on the purpose of the meal.
Later, Turner said he would pay all international expenses paid for his campaign accounts – though he said all were valid and legal.
Congressmen also reported spending around $ 1,200 in mid-April 2020 on a stay at the Nautilus Hotel in Miami Beach. (Turner’s expedition stated that the visit was to attend a foundation stone held before the epidemic.) And he spoke of repeated stops at the Lexington Hotel. In New York, a historic Midtown Manhattan establishment that describes itself as a “jazz-era, art deco hotel”.
Congressmen generally do not face a competitive race and Congress does not have one of the most prolific funds. On average since 2017, Turner has raised $ 170,000 per quarter and spent approximately $ 150,000.
According to a financial disclosure report Turner filed in the house clerk’s office in July, he earned assets between $ 182,000 to $ 781,000 last year; The wide range is due to the nature of reporting requirements.
Members of Congress are also paid a salary of $ 174,000 per year.
Federal Election Commission rules state that a legitimate campaign or officeholder expense becomes a personal expense if the expense is seeking federal office, regardless of whether a member or candidate is there or not.
According to the House Ethics Manual, a meal can only be finished when it is part or casual of a campaign event, or eaten when a member is traveling on a campaign business. It specifically notes that campaign funds should not be used only to pay for food taken away by a member and his personal friends or family – unless they actively work on the campaign and in the meeting Have a “clear, specific agenda”.
But the rules allow many interpretations. The ethics manual allows members to “use their Principal Campaign Committee funds to fund food and drink at official house events,” such as for a meeting, town hall, or caucus event, or official-related visit.
The interest in DC circles about misuse of campaign funds has increased since then-cancellation. Duncan Hunter (R-California) was accused of spending more than $ 200,000 from his political account on international family holidays and covering the big bar tab. He pleaded guilty to the charges and resigned from Congress.
But most of the expenditure falls in the gray area. For example, the ethics committee investigated Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich) for campaign-funded trips to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. The trip was a fundraising event, but in a report the committee noted the high cost and. The presence of staff families in these visits raised concerns that the campaign funds were being diverted for personal use. “
This month, Turner himself has alleged that Timms, his Democratic rival, is accepting Ohio Democratic Party salaries to run for Congress and missing reporting deadlines – drawing attention from a local news outlet is.
Candidates are allowed to take a salary under certain conditions, but Turner said Timms exceeds the limit allowed under federal law. Timms has said his salary did not exceed the threshold and called Turner’s charge a “dirty political attack”.
Timms is a Dayton native who served in the Obama White House and as a Senate staffer. He has been identified as a top challenger by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.