Uh Oh: Manchin Accused of Using Taxpayer Dollars to Underwrite California Fundraising Trip

Posted: Jun 18, 2018 2:05 PM

West Virginia's Joe Manchin, who's in a dogfight to win re-election in his pro-Trump state, is under fire for allegedly violating Senate ethics rules by billing taxpayers for a campaign fundraising trip to California.  Manchin recently decided to effectively disavow his 2016 support for Hillary Clinton, hinting that he's considering endorsing Donald Trump for re-election.  He's currently the only Senate Democrat who has thus far declined to sign on to Sen. Feinstein's bill dealing with family separations at the southern border (update: moments ago, he signed on).  Now, via the Washington Free Beacon, a potential ethical headache is brewing:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) used taxpayer money to pay for travel from a visit to California for a lucrative campaign fundraiser, according to official expenditure reports. Manchin's office made a $1,515.65 disbursement for four flights taken by the West Virginia Democrat, disclosed on page B-1429 of the Secretary of the Senate's report of Senate expenditures from April 1, 2017, to Sep. 30, 2017. The expenditure covered three July flights between Charleston, W. Va., and Washington, D.C., and an Aug. 9 flight from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh. A review of Manchin's campaign finance filings indicates the purpose of the trip was an Aug. 9 fundraiser at the Los Angeles headquarters of the Capital Group, a financial services firm. Contribution records sorted by the Washington Free Beacon show the company's employees contributed $62,100 to Manchin on Aug. 9 and a total of $99,900 to him during the fundraising quarter.

The Manchin campaign made a $1,739.54 disbursement to Michael Downer, a top company executive, for "catering" on Aug. 17. Downer's listed address on the disbursement is the address for the Capital Group's Los Angeles offices. A spokesman for Manchin's Senate office would not say whether there was any official business in California. The spokesman also would not provide details on how much of the $1,515.65 expense was for the California flight, saying that the number in the Secretary of the Senate report was "inaccurate." "We are in compliance with ethics," wrote Jonathan Kott. "Also, that number you are citing is inaccurate." Asked to elaborate on what part of the figure was inaccurate, Kott declined.

They're in complicance with the rules because...they say so.  Assertions are not evidence.  The WFB also flags this footnote about the cash haul Manchin reaped from this single financial services company in California: "The amount of money Manchin received from Capital Group during the quarter exceeded the amount he received in contributions from West Virginians, which was $80,201.96."  The piece also cites a 2010 Politico article detailing how Manchin rushed to reimburse taxpayers after reporters started sniffing around about a $5400 trip he took on a state plane.  The purpose of that flight?  To pick up a luxury yacht Manchin partially owned, called The Black Tie.  Speaking of endangered Senate Democrats and controversial flights, Missouri liberal Claire McCaskill is caught up in a comical mess.  She's recently been forced to admit that during her supposed 'RV tour' of the state (she's just a down-home gal from Missour-uh!), she actually traveled via...private jet.  Perfect:

Sen. Claire McCaskill confirmed Tuesday that she used her private plane during a three-day RV tour of her state last month, an admission that promises to become a political headache for the Missouri Democrat in her reelection bid. McCaskill claimed that a report on her air travel in The Washington Free Beacon, which used aircraft tracking data to map the plane's path following her RV tour for two of its three days, was "not accurate." However, she went further than the publication did in confirming that she did use a plane for part of the tour. "I added some stops with the use of the plane, but I was on the RV so much that the broken drawer drove me crazy," McCaskill said in a brief Tuesday interview in the Capitol, adding that "I even lost an iPad around a corner on the RV."

Well, maybe I used my private plane to fly around a little, but that gosh-darned broken drawer in my RV drove me nuts! And silly me -- Clumsy Claire over here! -- I even dropped an iPod around a corner! I'm so folksy and relatable! Can't you tell?  Cringe.  What makes this flare-up even more entertaining is that it harkens back to another political problem McCaskill struggled with in the past: "During the 2011 controversy over her plane use, McCaskill reimbursed the Treasury Department for more than $88,000 after POLITICO reported on dozens of flights she had chartered using her Senate office budget, employing a company incorporated by her husband. McCaskill's office stated at the time that the flights complied with Senate ethics rules, but her reimbursement and later sale of the plane appeared to be a nod to the political pickle that lavish modes of travel might present in a working-class state such as Missouri." McCaskill went on to highlight that she sold "the damn plane," but then her husband bought a new one a few years later.  

Hop-scotching a few states north, the Republican nominee for Senate in a competitive race is finally getting the presidential reinforcements he's been craving.  After tensions started to boil over regarding accusations that the president was allowing Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp to tie herself to Trump without significant pushback, the White House announced a trip to the state -- the purpose of which seems pretty clear:

Heitkamp is significantly more liberal than her state, voting against a number of Trump's qualified judicial appointments, joining lockstep opposition to the succeeding tax reform law, and high-fiving Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor after voting against a common-sense and widely-supported abortion restriction.  I'll leave you with Rick Scott's latest ad in Florida, knocking stunningly unknown incumbent Bill Nelson for launching misleading attacks, rather than promoting his own elusive accomplishments racked up over many decades in Washington:

Parting thought: Is Nelson the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the US Senate?  Perhaps, but the others mentioned above -- and Indiana's Joe Donnelly -- are giving Half-Century Bill a run for his money.