Nouveau Riche

30 Jan

Tom Reynolds makes a nice living (with bennies) off the taxpayers’ dime; about $176,000.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t live like a millionaire.

  • More than $180,000 in lodging, golf and food expenses at the famed Pebble Beach golf resort in California.
  • More than $75,000 for beach resorts in Florida, most of it for expenses at the exclusive Ocean Reef Club in the Keys. Reynolds is not a member but has been a guest, Brady said.
  • More than $23,400 for stays at Las Vegas resorts, including Caesars Palace, the Bellagio and the MGM Grand. The cost included $875 for a helicopter tour.
  • Must be nice, right? But why? Why does a Republican congressman from suburban/exurban Western New York need to fundraise so aggressively in such wonderfully exotic locales? Pebble Beach, Florida, and Las Vegas are not, last time I checked, in New York’s 26th Congressional District.

    “Donors aren’t going to show up for the same old chicken dinner at a restaurant in Washington,” said Brady, Reynolds’ former chief of staff, who now works for him as director of strategic communications at the National Republican Congressional Committee. “We’ve had to become more creative to come up with events that donors want to attend.”

    It’s all about the fun. And the access. The access is nice, too.

    Reynolds has been especially successful. So far in the 2005-2006 election cycle, he has taken in $1.2 million and spent $820,516, or about 68 percent.

    Anything wrong with that?

    The fundraising trips are legal. In fact, party leaders encourage both Republicans and Democrats who want to get chairmanships and leadership jobs to raise money to help others get elected to Congress.

    But the trips also underscore how lawmakers are able to use campaign committees to pay for posh travel. And none of the campaign finance reform proposals unveiled by lawmakers so far would eliminate this perk.

    Reynolds’ annual fundraisers include golfing along the northern California coast; fishing in Key Largo, Fla.; and staying at some of Las Vegas’ most celebrated casinos.

    “Luxury resorts, fancy meals, exclusive golf resorts and junkets — all on someone else’s dime,” said Connor Williams, spokesman for Campaign for a Cleaner Congress, a liberal group that is critical of corporate lobbying. “When a lot of western New Yorkers are facing tough times, Tom Reynolds is letting influence peddlers show him one heck of a good time.”

    I have one request of Mr. Reynolds.

    If you’re going to spend hundreds of thousands of your PAC’s dollars to wine and dine a bunch of lobbyists, maybe just once drag their sorry asses to your own district, and drop a couple hundred thou in the fightin’ 26th.

    In contrast, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., raised $251,555 for her leadership committee, PAC to the Future, and spent a little more than that by dipping into cash she had raised previously, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

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