Sen. Rand Paul has used political donations to spend more than $11,000 at restaurants in Italy and Malta and thousands more for European hotels and limousine services in connection with fundraising and other political events.
Paul’s political leadership committee also spent $337 on apparel at a Men’s Wearhouse in Omaha, Nebraska, in September 2014, and $438 on apparel at a New York Allen Edmonds in February 2016. The figures were provided by two independent watchdog groups.
Paul this week has been one of the few Republicans to staunchly defend President Donald Trump for his performance at a press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin. And the senator’s committee has spent at Trump-related properties, including 2017, $1,575 in 2017 at BLT Prime, the restaurant in Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel.
Paul, a Kentucky Republican, has donated less than 7 percent of the money raised through his leadership political action committee to candidates. That’s well below the 45 percent average of other lawmakers.
A spokeswoman for Paul’s RAND PAC committee, or Reinventing a New Direction, said its expenses are for political or fundraising purposes, not personal.
“Every stop last summer for RANDPAC included fundraising events with Americans overseas and expenses for the donor events,” said Kelsey Cooper.
She added that Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been “active on issues of interest to Americans living abroad,” including the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act that Paul has long opposed. It requires U.S. citizens to file annual reports on any foreign account holdings.
“We chose to finance travel this way to save taxpayer funds, rather than at taxpayer expense as nearly every other elected official does,” Cooper said.
In the 2017-2018 election cycle, Paul’s committee has spent $11,043 at restaurants in Italy and Malta, $4,492 on a limousine service in Rome, and $1,904 at the St. George Lycabettus Hotel in Athens.
The report notes the “5-star” hotel in Athens “advertises ‘breathtaking panoramic views over Athens to the Acropolis and the Saronic Gulf beyond.’” Footnotes in the report link to a story detailing how Paul was in Greece last August as part of a European tour.
Paul’s committee has boosted its spending somewhat this cycle, spending 15.6 percent on other candidates and committees.
Leadership PACs such as the one Paul runs were permitted in 1978 to allow members of Congress to donate money to other political campaigns and help them attain leadership positions. Using the cash for other expenses in connection with holding office is common among members of Congress.
The report by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center and Issue One, released Thursday, included Paul’s spending amidst a number of other current and past members of Congress to spotlight what it says are the various ways members of Congress and federal candidates use leadership PACs to “subsidize lavish lifestyles on their donors’ dimes.”
Paul’s political action committee also made a number of expenditures in Guatemala in 2014, which the report notes were likely associated with the ophthalmologist’s trip to perform free eye surgeries on patients who could not afford the insurance.
In looking at other expenses, the report says that officeholders are not allowed to use campaign dollars for clothing, but that Paul and other politicians have used leadership funds to pay for new threads.
Paul was included earlier this year in a Washington Post list of Republicans who had spent the most at Trump branded properties.
Trump and Paul golfed together at Trump’s golf course in Sterling, Va. last October and the report notes Paul’s committee spent $4017 at the Virginia course.
The report says spending on golf-related activities at Trump properties and others by current and former members of Congress totals at least $871,000, with some using leadership dollars to pay country club dues.
The report notes that politicians often use leadership PACs to pay for tickets to sporting events, concerts and the theater.
It also cited Rep. Andy Barr’s leadership PAC, Building America’s Republican Representation, for spending $18,654 in December 2015 on tickets from Breeders’ Cup Limited, which hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in Keeneland.
A political fund-raising consultant in Washington who handles BARR PAC’s books told the Lexington Herald-Leader in 2016 that Barr’s race track events were fundraisers.
Barr’s committee, which was formed in 2015, spent more than the average — 56.4 percent — on contributions to candidates or political committees in the 2015-16 cycle. It spent 64.6 percent in the current 2017-18 cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Rep. Hal Rogers’ leadership PAC, Help America’s Leaders PAC, was also included in the report for spending $86,616 from 2013 through 2016 on tickets to Churchill Downs.
The Kentucky Republican’s committee also has paid $70,317 to the Pebble Beach Company, which manages Pebble Beach Resorts, including the golf courses, hotels,and restaurants.
A spokesperson for Rogers told the Herald-Leader in 2016 that travel and meals billed to HALPAC — such as the Pebble Beach golf trip — were necessary operating expenses for fund-raising events.