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GOP House members top Dems in 2016 official spending

Posted by Jock Friedly on Sept. 28, 2016

Eight of the top 10 spenders of taxpayer funds in the House of Representatives this year are Republicans, as GOP lawmakers spend disproportionate amounts of their office budgets on mass mailings ahead of the elections.

A new LegiStorm analysis of how members of the House spend their budgets reveals a stark party difference in the use of printing costs and "franked mail" — mass mailings paid for with taxpayer dollars. The numbers suggest that Republicans spend relatively more money and effort trying to convince constituents that they are doing an effective job in Congress, and relatively less money on staff to do legislative and constituent work.

The top-spending Republican, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), who holds a vulnerable seat against an election challenge by a former Democratic member of Congress, plowed through more than 55% of his annual budget in the first six months of the year. In doing so, he spent 12.5% of his expenses for printing and mailing, versus a House average of 4.7%. 

But Hurd's $88,000 in spending on franked mail and reproduction this year comes nowhere close to the more than $253,000, or 41% of total expenses, paid by Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa), who also holds a vulnerable seat. That's more than 14 times what an average Democrat spent on such expenses. Blum spent 50% more money on this category than the next highest spender, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).

The franked mail differences is one trend that is evident with a new interactive information resource that LegiStorm is making available for the first time to analyze House spending. The new resource allows users to sort by spending category and compare expenses against the authorized budget.

The data shows that some frugal members are able to refund substantial portions of their budgets to the U.S. Treasury while others come perilously close to overspending their budgets. Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) made it through 2015 with less than $30 to spare in his budget of $1.25 million.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) played it even closer in 2012, spending all but $7.18 of his $1.37 million budget. That's less than $1 for every $100,000 that he managed to conserve.

But the fiscal balancing acts of those members of Congress don't compare with what former Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), now a lobbyist, managed to accomplish in 2010. He finished the year having spent exactly 100% of his budget — spending even the very last penny.

Members have some discretion in how they report expenses, allowing them to shift some expenses if need be from one year to the next. Sometimes top staffers will bear the brunt of budget miscalculations, having to take temporary pay cuts to meet budget numbers, only to see their pay temporarily raised in the new year to compensate.

Still, those members pushing the limits do so at their own potential financial peril. Any amount overspent must be paid back out of the lawmaker's own pocket. The flirtation with budget limits is particularly dangerous because the data shows that member offices do not necessarily have tight controls over what is spent, with millions of dollars in congressional expenses reported as many as several years after they were incurred.

For example, 5.43 percent of 2013 expenses were reported in a future year. Even some 2013 expenses were first reported by members earlier this year — three years late. Dozens of members report at least 10 percent of their expenses in a year after they were supposed to be reported.

Six of the top 10 spenders last year were Republicans. In general, however, Democrats spend somewhat more of their budgets each year than Republicans. Last year, Republicans had 5 percent of their office budgets left over on average, with Democrats having only 3 percent.

The most frugal members of the House come nowhere close to their budget limits. Two members last year finished the year with less than 70 percent of their office totals spent. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) had the lowest spending, followed closely by Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.). They each will be returning close to $400,000 to the Treasury unless an unusual number of expenses comes in after now.

The biggest difference between how the two parties spent their office budgets appears to involve franked mail and printing costs. Although only five of the 10 top spenders in this category this year are members of the GOP, Republicans spent on average 50 percent more than Democrats on these expenses.

The differences are greater in years prior. From available data in 2010–2016, Democrats spent only 3.4 percent of their budgets on printing and mailing whereas Republicans spent 5.9 percent of their budget.

The Republican-Democratic difference in printing and mailing costs is not just during election years. For example, Blum, the top spender on this category for this year, spent a similarly outsized proportion last year as well, with 37 percent of his total spending going for this purpose.

For Blum, this spending category squeezed out personnel expenses, which were lower for Blum than any other House member both this year and last. Last year he was the only member of Congress who served the whole year and spent less than half his budget on personnel. The top personnel spender last year, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) outspent him more than two to one on employees, with more than 86 percent of her budget going for that purpose.

Spending on printing and mailing has been a hot-button ethics issue over the years given the potential for how such spending could dovetail nicely with campaign advertising. In fact, the Committee on House Administration tightly monitors the language used in such mailings, and House rules prohibit mailings close to the election.

By contrast 24 of the top 25 spenders last year on rent, communications and utilities were Democrats. Since Democrats control the vast majority of urban districts, their district offices are far more likely to incur higher downtown rents.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), whose district includes John F. Kennedy International Airport, spent $231,901 on this expense category despite having only two district offices. He spent $40,000 more than the next highest spender, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who represents an area of Northern California that is not as pricey as Silicon Valley but has three offices in reasonably pricey locales.

Longtime Harry Reid aide moves to futures group

Posted by Keturah Hetrick on Sept. 27, 2016

After more than 11 years with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Gavin Parke is seizing the future.

Parke, who had served as Reid's counsel and policy adviser since 2011, has taken a position as senior director at CME Group. He originally joined Reid's office as an extern in 2005.

CME Group, owner of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, is the world's second-largest futures exchange company. CME Group has spent more than $1 million on lobbying this year, focusing primarily on derivatives and securities markets and regulatory reforms. 

Parke holds a bachelor's degree in international political economy from Brigham Young University and a JD degree from the University of Nevada.

Rep. Mica aide moves to National Association of Counties

Posted by Keturah Hetrick on Sept. 26, 2016

A policy adviser to Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) has trucked off to the National Association of Counties, where he now works as an associate legislative director focusing on transportation issues.

Kevan Stone joined Mica's office as a legislative correspondent in 2011 and became the congressman's policy adviser last year.

Born in Great Britain, Stone grew up in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County, Fla. He previously managed Greek Unique Orlando, an on-campus fraternity and sorority gift shop at his alma mater, the University of Central Florida.

Natural products lobbyist returns to Hill - naturally

Posted by Keturah Hetrick on Sept. 23, 2016

After a five-year break to do lobbying, Mike Kelley is back on the Hill as deputy chief of staff and legislative director for Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.).

Kelley originally joined the Hill in 2008, as a staff assistant for former Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) before becoming a lobbyist for Mayer Brown and the Moffett Group. For the last year, he has worked as director of government affairs at the Natural Products Association, which represents companies making products without artificial ingredients and that are minimally processed.

He holds a BA in history from the University of Virginia.

Advocacy group lobbies to reverse DEA classification

Posted by Keturah Hetrick on Sept. 22, 2016

An advocacy group wants to (legally) unleash the kratom — a previously legal herbal drug just days away from being banned.

While the American Kratom Association claims the plant provides "increased energy, minor pain relief and many find relief from a variety of other mental and physical ailments," the DEA finds that the drug has "currently no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

The herb is currently regulated as a supplement by the Food and Drug Administration, but, come Sept. 30, the Drug Enforcement Administration will classify the substance as a Schedule I drug, the same class as other illegal drugs.

The group is working with Upstream Consulting under brothers Mac Haddow, who served as a Utah state representative in the 1980s and a campaign manager to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and CEO John Haddow, who was legislative director to Hatch and health policy director of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee from the 1970s to 1990s.

About Caught Our Eye

We spend a large part of our days looking at data. Documents often come in by the dozens and hundreds. And while most are boring - how interesting can staring at a phone directory or salary records be, for example? - we find daily reasons for interest, amusement or even concern packed in the documents. So we are launching a new running feature that we call "Caught our Eye."

Longer than tweets but shorter than most blog posts, Caught our Eye items will bring back the interest in reviewing documents and researching people. Some items might bring hard, breaking news. Others will raise eyebrows and lead some into further inquiry. Others might be good for a joke or two around the water cooler. All will enlighten about the people or workings of Capitol Hill.

Caught our Eye items will be published each morning for LegiStorm Pro subscribers. Non-Pro site users will be able to receive the news items a few hours later. In addition to having immediate access to the news, LegiStorm Pro users will have a handy way to search and browse all past items.