Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spent nearly $65,000 in taxpayer money on his lavish “Madison Dinners,” according to records obtained by CREW. The total bill is roughly $21,000 more than the amount initially disclosed to CREW in an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
New documents show the Pompeo State Department’s efforts to obscure costs relating to the dinners in reports to Congress, including more than $16,000 spent on custom Madison Dinner pens and journals gifted to the high-profile political donors and others who attended the events. The records revive questions about whether Pompeo misused money from a special congressional appropriation for “diplomatic emergencies” to fund the dinners—questions the agency’s Inspector General has yet to answer.
CREW tallied the taxpayer-funded bill—totaling $64,911—by analyzing more than 500 pages of expense reports, invoices, receipts and checks released by the State Department between December 2020 and June 2021. The dinners, hosted by Pompeo and his wife Susan, were first reported by NBC News in May 2020.
The newly-disclosed costs include $3,675 for 355 custom journals embossed with the Madison Dinners’ logo, which the Pompeos gave away as keepsakes to dinner guests. The documents show one order for 205 journals in July 2018 and another order for 150 journals in May 2019.
CREW previously revealed that Pompeo spent $10,433 on 400 engraved pens assembled in China as gifts for Madison Dinner attendees. The new records show the total price tag for the pens was actually $12,717. The additional $2,284 charge is reflected in a newly-released September 2018 invoice from the pen manufacturer, which notes: “Client sending 250 piece pen order back for additional imprinting to be added to barrel of pen.”
New emails show State Department personnel scrambling to replenish the Madison Dinner “inventory” to keep pace with the Pompeos’ demands. In a May 2019 email marked as having “High” importance, an employee urged two top officials in the Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol to “re-order both Madison pens and notebooks” based on the Pompeos’ anticipated dinner schedule.
Sean Lawler, then the Chief of Protocol, approved the request in an email later that day. Lawler’s time in the position was marked by scandal and alleged misconduct.
A July 2018 slide deck prepared by the Department’s Diplomatic Gift Unit detailed “Pen Options,” with proofs of pens featuring the Madison Dinners logo.
Other documents provide a glimpse into the festive atmosphere the Pompeos sought to create at the Madison Dinners, with receipts showing a “Mardi Gras” themed dinner in February 2020, complete with masks and beads from Party City.
The records also reflect repeated efforts to obscure Pompeo’s Madison Dinner expenditures in reports to Congress.
Emails previously reported by CREW showed that State Department officials chose not to refer to the events as “Madison Dinners” in reports to Congress because they didn’t “want to get questions from the Hill.” CREW also described a spreadsheet of Madison Dinner costs (now available here) compiled for Pompeo in advance of an appearance before Congress that conspicuously omitted funds spent on the custom pens and journals—costs that we now know exceeded $16,000.
New emails from June 2019 show a State Department employee instructing the pen vendor to reissue an invoice mentioning “Madison Dinners,” and to replace the event description with “Secretary of State U.S. Foreign Policy Discussion Dinner Series.”
A similar email was sent to the journal vendor in June 2019:
In a 2018 expense report to Congress, the Department described the Madison Dinner pens and journals generically as “SECSTATE Gift Inventory.” The report did not link the items to Pompeo’s Madison Dinners (or any other event), even though they were purchased for that purpose.
By contrast, “General Entertainment” expenses listed in the same report do link reported expenditures to the Madison Dinners, albeit using coded terminology.
The lack of candor with Congress is especially problematic because Pompeo’s dinners were funded out of a special appropriation known as the K Fund, or the “Emergencies in the Diplomatic and Consular Service Appropriation.” The fund is reserved for “unforeseen emergencies arising in the diplomatic and consular service.” By law, expenditures from the K Fund must “serve to further the realization of foreign policy objectives” and be “a matter of urgency to implement.”
Federal law requires the Department to send detailed quarterly K Fund expenditure reports to Congress; it also directs the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) to “conduct a periodic audit” of K Fund expenditures and to submit an “annual report” to Congress “indicating whether such expenditures were made in accordance” with law.
In recent years, the OIG’s oversight of the K Fund appears to have been minimal, and perhaps non-existent. The OIG confirmed to CREW in a separate lawsuit that it has not conducted any audit of K Fund expenditures from Pompeo’s tenure (April 2018 – January 2021)—despite concerns reportedly raised by State Department personnel that Pompeo’s dinners “were essentially using federal resources to cultivate a donor and supporter base for Pompeo’s political ambitions.”
The most recent K Fund audit report available on the OIG’s website was issued in 2011. It identified $723,378 of improper expenditures on items such as kitchen upgrades, a retirement function, and postage. The OIG also cautioned that “inadequate controls” on the K Fund “could lead to funds being unavailable for emergencies or being used inappropriately”—a warning that now seems prescient following Pompeo’s tenure.
It’s not too late for the OIG to do its job by auditing Pompeo’s K Fund spending. An April 2021 OIG report—issued months after Pompeo left office—confirmed allegations that he and Susan Pompeo improperly used government personnel to perform personal tasks. A similar OIG review of Pompeo’s Madison Dinner spending is necessary. The public deserves a full accounting of just how much Pompeo abused his official position for personal gain. And the Department, for its part, should heed the OIG’s decades-old warning to implement effective controls on the K Fund to ensure its funds are available for diplomatic emergencies and other critical purposes for which they are intended.