Investigator: Congressional spending of Ohio taxpayers' money

11:48 PM, May 15, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON D.C. -- At a time when Congress is asking all of us to tighten our belts, Channel 3 News wanted to find out what Ohio's delegation in Washington D.C. is spending taxpayer money on.

It turns out -- plenty.

Each representative gets $174,000 annual salary as well as a generous pension. They also get to spend an average of $1.35 million from their Member Representational Allowance, or MRA, on official expenses, including staff, travel, mail and district office rent.

The MRA covers other perks as well.

For instance, Ohio's congressional delegation spent a total of $32,874 last year on food for them and their guests, a Channel 3 News investigation found.

U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci spent the most on food at $4,278, the records show. That included him forking over $792 on a breakfast so that Renacci and several retired professional football players could talk to members of Congress about a bill to help the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton acquire priceless artifacts.

The delegation also spent $21,091 on bottled water.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur tapped U.S. taxpayers for $1,800 to buy water for her staff in Washington D.C. -- the most of any representative from Ohio.

Kaptur said she needed to buy the water "because of the pipes in the Capitol. There are many of the staff that will not drink the water out of the tap."

The station also found that House Majority Speaker John Boehner spent at least $2,200 last November on coffee service alone. "Where is he getting his coffee from?" said Stephen Davis, of Cleveland. "That's completely absurd."

Dr.  John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron, says taxpayers are often outraged with congressional spending in their district offices.

"It's a common complaint," he said. "Is that really the best use of taxpayer money, because we're facing a situation where we have budget deficits, we're going to have tax raises and important programs may be cut?"

The majority of congressional discretionary spending went for staff salaries, according to an analysis of the House of Representatives' Statement of Disbursement.

Retired Rep. Dennis Kucinich's office cut more than $1.1 million in paychecks last year, the most of any Ohio representative.

But it was Rep. Steve LaTourette, who retired at the end of the term, who gave his staff the biggest end-of-the year bonuses: a total of $150,779.

Renacci agrees that spending in Washington D.C. is out of control, particularly the travel.

"I talk about the travel of the president," Renacci said. "I think if he was a business operator he would not be travelling to go play golf in Florida. Those are the expenditures that I think are a waste."

Yet Channel 3 News found that Ohio's representatives spent a total of $588,000 on official travel for themselves for items like airline tickets, hotels, meals, mileage, tolls and other "subsistence" items.

That doesn't include spending on travel for staff. It also doesn't include the more than $80,000 that Ohio's representatives spent on overseas "fact-finding" trips to places like Prague, Istanbul, Munich and Sydney.

Rep. Michael Turner spent the most last year, racking up $57,887, while Renacci was ranked second with $44,925. Renacci said that "99 percent of that travel was me travelling back and forth from the district. ... I come back to the district every week."

The station also found that LaTourette spent $502 a month to lease a BMW and Rep. Bill Johnson billed taxpayers $370 a month on a Ford lease.

Channel 3 News requested monthly statements from each member for their government-issued credit cards, which would provide details about where the member stayed, for how long, and where they dined.

Every member refused, saying they were exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Green says that Congress wrote the Freedom of Information Act specifically to exempt themselves from being forced to release any records they don't want to.

"That often bugs a lot of Americans -- Democrats, Republicans and independents," Green said. "Most Americans when asked about these questions want fuller disclosure and more transparency."


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