Turner campaign spends $90,000 on travel, meals in 3.5 years

An analysis of U.S. Rep. Mike Turner’s campaign spending shows the Dayton Republican has spent about $90,000 on travel and meals since 2017, which his opponent and a national Democratic organization criticized.

Turner said all of the spending consists of “valid, legal, and publicly reported expenses.”

His campaign account has paid out $71,000 on meeting meals, food and beverage and more than $19,000 on lodging — significantly more than what was spent by two other long-time Ohio incumbents out of their campaign accounts, according to a Dayton Daily News analysis of reports to the Federal Elections Commission.

Federal law and House Ethics Rules prohibit using campaign funds for personal use. The ethics rules mandate that expenditures be legitimate and verifiable.

Adav Noti of the Campaign Legal Center said officeholders can use campaign funds for campaign and office expenses that they wouldn’t have had if they weren’t a candidate or officeholder.

“What was interesting about the pattern of spending for Rep. Turner wasn’t so much any one disbursement because any one of them standing alone would not raise eyebrows,” said Noti, a former FEC associate general counsel. “It was more the extended, multi-year pattern of meal after meal and hotel stay after hotel stay at very nice restaurants and very nice hotels.”

Noti added that spending levels are worth examination. “I’d say the pattern of giving raises a question as to whether campaign donors are subsidizing the congressman’s personal lifestyle.”

Turner didn’t answer Dayton Daily News questions and issued a statement that says: “My lobbyist opponent is attacking me over food, not all of which was mine, and all of which are valid, legal, and publicly reported expenses. This is her attempt to counter that she has been illegally paid to run for Congress. She has nothing to offer our community, which needs strong representation to protect Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.”

Turner filed a complaint Tuesday with the Federal Elections Commission against his opponent, Democrat Desiree Tims, alleging that her campaign improperly paid her a salary. FEC rules permit campaigns to pay the candidates salaries as a way to make it possible for people of modest means to run for Congress. The payment can’t exceed the lessor of what the candidate earned the prior year or what the job being sought pays.

Tims reported earning nothing in 2018 but later amended her filing to report $28,000 in income in 2018. The Tims campaign and state party said ODP acts as a payroll administrator and that the salary money came from the Tims campaign. She called the allegations “dirty political attacks.”

Tims, who has never held elected office, started her political career as an unpaid intern for the Obama White House, earned her law degree from Georgetown University, worked for Democratic U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and lobbied for an environmental nonprofit.

Turner, who is seeking his 10th consecutive term, sits on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The 10th Congressional district includes Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the largest single site employer in Ohio. He is a board member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which seeks to link NATO with NATO members' legislative bodies.

Dayton Development Coalition President Jeff Hoagland said: “Congressman Turner has been one of the top advocates for the Air Force and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and that’s been the case since I’ve been at the coalition. He lives and breathes Wright-Patt A.F.B. and that’s something this region needs.”

Lodging expenses paid by the campaign totaled $19,426 since 2017. This included stays at hotels such as the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in western Pennsylvania and The Lexington in midtown Manhattan. The campaign spent $1,172 at Nautilus, an ocean-side property in Miami, in April 2019 and another $1,162 there in April 2020, campaign finance reports show.

On Dec. 26, 2019, the Turner campaign spent $295 at Hotel Brussels in the capital of Belgium. Initially, it was reported as a lodging expense but the campaign recently amended it to categorize it as a food expense.

From Dec. 12 to Dec. 16, 2019, Turner traveled to London and Oxford on a trip sponsored by the Hudson Institute and the Association of Marshall Scholars, according to public disclosures. His daughter Jessica, who lived in Britain, accompanied him and Turner reported that he planned to extend the trip at personal expense through Dec. 21.

Records don’t indicate where Turner was between Dec. 21 and Dec. 26.

Turner campaign manager Mason DiPalma told POLITICO in a report published Tuesday night that: “Turner was in NATO meetings in Brussels on his way back from Afghanistan. The campaign will be filing 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.”

Travel disclosures show Turner’s sponsored trip to Great Britain; official foreign travel disclosures do not list a trip to Afghanistan or Brussels in December 2019. Often classified trips are listed as “undisclosed locations" in the foreign travel reports posted to the Congressional record.

Excluding expenses for catering, receptions or events, the Turner campaign has paid out $71,457 since 2017 for meals and meetings, including $10,979 at the Capitol Hill Club and $10,203 at Young Chow in Washington, D.C.

In 3.5 years, the Turner campaign has picked up the tab for food at 371 meetings. The Federal Elections Commission reports do not indicate how many people were at each meal or what food was ordered.

Matt Schoonmaker, spokesperson for the Tims campaign, said in a written statement: “The facts speak for themselves, and no amount of political spin can cover up the fact that Mike Turner spent more on lavish meals than most Ohioans make in a year.”

Most of Turner’s campaign money is spent outside of Ohio. Since 2017, the Turner campaign has spent $2.39 million — 65.4% of which was spent outside Ohio. By comparison, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot’s campaign spent $3.7 million since 2017 — 18.7% outside Ohio. Democrat U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo spent $1.55 million, including $716,500 in contributions made to other campaigns. Out of the $837,829 she spent on campaign expenses since 2017, 41% was outside Ohio.

The Dayton Daily News compared campaign spending by Turner, Chabot and Kaptur because all three are long-time incumbents from Ohio representing urban and suburban areas.

During the same period, the Chabot campaign spent $10,264 on food, meals and meetings, including $2,108 at the Capitol Hill Club and $1,871 on food donations during the pandemic. Chabot’s campaign spent $426 on hotel lodging during that time period.

Since 2017, Kaptur’s campaign spent $4,408 on lodging and $4,298 on meals and food, excluding expenditures for events, catering, receptions or fundraisers.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Sarah Guggenheimer issued a statement that called for Turner to personally reimburse expenditures and apologize to constituents.

“Congressman Mike Turner has spent his time in Congress abusing his position to fund an extravagant lifestyle," she said. “This behavior is completely unethical and a clear indictment of Turner’s character and ability to represent the Miami Valley with any real integrity.”

Over the past nine elections, Turner has won his seat by an average of 24.9 percentage points. In his last race against Democrat Theresa Gasper, Turner won by 14 percentage points.

The Cook Political Report ranking shows the 10th District leans Republican by 4 percentage points — an index that makes it one of the most competitive Congressional districts in Ohio.

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