Rep. Joe “You Lie” Wilson (R-SC) used the cash the government gave him for his personal lodging, meals and incidentals during an official overseas trips to buy a statue of the statesman who founded Turkey, marble goblets from Afghanistan and flags from various countries with which to decorate his congressional office. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) picked up flowers, candy and wine for ambassadors or other hosts; had custom-made baseball hats for staff and members attending one overseas trip; and gave a $100 bill to an Iraqi refugee at an event in Saudi Arabia.
Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) purchased gifts like “leather goods, t-shirts, dolls, and post cards” for his family and used his per diem to cover the expenses of his wife, who accompanied him on at least one trip. Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-NC) picked up gifts and souvenirs for his family with his per diem and also suggested members pick up the cost of one ”shockingly” expensive meal for their staffers. Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY) “occasionally used the per diem to cover the meals and entertainment of leaders or residents of the country that he visited” as well as gifts for his secretary and chief of staff. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz (D-TX) picked up the tab of some meals for his staff.
That’s all according to reports that the Office of Congressional Ethics sent to the House Ethics Committee, which announced Friday that they’d be taking no action against the six members who used the federal money improperly. TPM took a look at the lengthy reports that OCE first sent to the House ethics committee over the summer, which OCE released Monday.
Members of Congress are only supposed to use the cash for personal lodging, meals and incidentals — and then return whatever is left over. But that’s not quite how it ended up working, the OCE found.
Wilson reportedly told the OCE that he may have used some of his per diem to purchase souvenirs. As an example, he described a small statue of Kamal Ataturk that he bought in Turkey, which currently sits on his desk in his Congressional office. He also described using per diem to purchase flags from foreign countries which he has on display in his Congressional office.
“When specifically asked about his purchase of marble goblets from Afghanistan, Representative Wilson stated that he has brought back marble goblets in the past,” the report says. “He described a shop in the arcade of the airport in Kabul where one can buy a set of six goblets for either $10 or $12 — the witness could not recall. He has purchased two sets. When he returned from the CODEL he wrote ‘Afghanistan 2009’ on the bottom of the goblets and gave them to veterans and people who have served in Afghanistan and to their family. He did not think he used per diem to purchase the goblets because he bought them at the end of the trip and he did not think he had any per diem left. He does not use the per diem to purchase souvenirs for his family or constituents.”
Hastings, on the other hand, “purchased neckties for the pilots of a military plane on which he traveled and did not retain receipts for such expenses.” He also used the per diem to purchase “baseball caps, magnets, can openers, and thimbles” as souvenirs for staffers. Hastings also reimbursed himself $425.00 for custom made hats for staffers and members who went on the trip.
Butterfield appears to be the only one of the six members under investigation who claimed that he wasn’t quoted quite accurately in the March 2010 Wall Street Journal story that led to the investigation.
Butterfield, a member of the House ethics committee, told the OCE that he remembers telling reporters that he didn’t have any ”significant” leftover funds but said he didn’t recall characterizing such funds as ”80, 90, or 100 dollars,” as the article has him saying.
Another former member of the House, Rep. Mark Souder (R., Ind.), told the newspaper said used the per diem funds to buy a $200 painting of an estuary in Turkey, which hung in his office but was at his house at the time of the article. The Office of Congressional Ethics did not probe Souder because he left Congress.