April 26, 2016
In early March, a quartet of congressional Republicans linked arms and formed a joint fundraising committee (JFC) that could nominally benefit each of their respective re-election campaigns. The new committee, called Team Telluride, ultimately allowed the members of Congress to hit the slopesin Colorado under the guise of fundraising for their political operations.
As CREW has documented, vacation fundraising is a common practice in Congress that allows members and lobbyists to mix it up in pleasant environs while the special interests indirectly pick up the bill with their contributions. But the Team Telluride fundraiser presents an especially stark example of how the destination fundraisers can act as thinly veiled subsidized vacations for lawmakers.
These types of fundraisers are often defended on the grounds that they are an efficient means to raise a lot of money in a short period of time, but the Telluride trip doesn’t appear to have been too lucrative for the four Republicans. Though the committee raised $12,500 from the political action committees (PAC) of Northrop Grumman and the International Dairy Foods Association, expenses for the weekend totaled $9,095, leaving just $3,405 to split among the lawmakers.
At first blush, Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) appears to have fared the best as the JFC transferred $1,192 to his campaign account. Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), on the other hand, got just $374 for his campaign while Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) received $1,038 and $800, respectively, for their campaign accounts.
But that doesn’t take into consideration the extra expenses these campaigns picked up for the weekend. Rep. Flores’ campaign, for instance, paid $1,221 for “lodging” at the Peaks Hotel, the venue where the lawmakers stayed according to Politico, in late February. If that expenditure was indeed related to the Team Telluride fundraiser then Rep. Flores’ campaign actually lost money on the effort unless additional funders contributed directly to the campaign instead of going through the JFC.
Rep. Tipton, who represents the congressional district that contains Telluride, reported spending $296on March 8 for a “hotel stay” at the Peaks Hotel. His campaign also spent $2,179 at the hotel in early February, but since the Team Telluride trip took place on March 4 and 5, the March expenditure is more likely tied to the JFC. Subtracting the cost of the March “hotel stay” from his JFC proceeds means that Rep. Tipton only made $504 on the event unless additional funders contributed directly to the campaign instead of going through the JFC. If the February payments were actually tied to the Team Telluride fundraiser then Rep. Tipton’s campaign possibly lost money like Rep. Flores’s.
It’s more difficult to discern how Reps. Brooks and Hultgren came out. Neither’s campaign reported making any expenditures in Telluride during February or March. In fact, it is unclear where the two members of Congress stayed during the event or who paid for their lodging since they did not report any relevant payments. Maybe their rooms were included in the “lodging” purchased by Rep. Flores’s campaign or perhaps they stayed at the congressman’s house. The Telluride Daily Planet reported that Rep. Flores owns a home in nearby Mountain Village.
The meager, even negative, fundraising haul probably doesn’t faze the four members as it most likely wasn’t the point of the whole venture. The event was organized by the fundraising firm Republic Strategies. The firm’s founder, Ashlee Reid Morehouse, explained the weekend to the local press by noting that one of the members “owns property there and another one represents the district.” “They’re there to ski whenever they can get away,” she told the Telluride Daily Planet. Northrup Grumman and the dairy industry were happy to oblige.