Camp, Foley Reimburse Ripon for Expenses

Posted May 27, 2005 at 5:18pm

In early August 2004, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), along with his wife and children, flew on a Baxter Pharmaceuticals corporate plane to Chicago, stayed in a luxury hotel and took in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) also went along on the trip, which was planned and sponsored by the Ripon Society, a moderate Republican organization whose president is lobbyist Richard Kessler of Kessler and Associates.

Neither Member filed travel disclosure forms or paid for costs they are responsible for under Congressional ethics rules until late May, according to their offices and two Ripon Society officials.

When private groups fund Congressional travel, Members must file travel disclosure forms within 30 days of returning from the jaunt.

In Foley’s case, the Congressman signed a travel disclosure form on May 25 and filed it with the Clerk of the House the following day, his spokesman, Jason Kello, said.

Kello explained that after the early-August trip to Chicago, Foley’s district was slammed by multiple hurricanes. “I would imagine in the weeks that followed, our concerns were about” those storms, he said.

Recently, when a staff member in Foley’s office went over the 2004 financials, he discovered the August trip and called Ripon to confirm the details, Kello said. On May 17, Ripon sent Foley a letter detailing the expenses and asking him to pay $66.67 to cover the Cubs game.

“This was a glitch that we were able to fix,” Kello said.

Camp, who received a bill from Ripon for almost $5,000, has decided to pay for the entire trip, totaling more than $9,000, out of campaign funds.

Sage Eastman, Camp’s communications director, said his boss had planned all along to pay for the trip in full out of his campaign coffers.

“My understanding, for some reason, [the Ripon Society] hadn’t sent us the letters letting us know how much to pay,” Eastman said. “We had always been waiting for the cost to fully reimburse.”

Eastman said he isn’t certain why Ripon did not send information about the reports quickly, but added, “There was a mix-up right after the trip, so their records were mixed up or some staff changes happened, so we didn’t get the bill.”

Elvis Oxley, the executive director of Ripon, said in an interview that Ripon has received reimbursement from Camp’s office and expects a check from Foley’s office soon. Oxley said he “would rather not comment” on why Ripon sent letters asking for reimbursement more than nine months after the trip had occurred. But he added, “It’s not the fault of the offices of the Members.”

Oxley, the son of Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio), meanwhile, said he plans to leave the Ripon Society in July to pursue other opportunities.

“I’m taking this brief amount of time to find the right opportunity,” he said. His successor has not yet been named.

Ethics experts said that filing the travel reports or paying for the trip’s costs are the responsibility of the Member, not the sponsoring organization.

The Ripon Society sent a letter to Camp dated May 17 itemizing expenses that totaled $9,294.25. The letter asked Camp to pay $4,881.77 — not the entire bill — for costs that Ripon is not allowed to cover, such as the airplane bill for Camp’s children.

The main cost of Camp’s three-day trip was for the corporate airfare totaling more than $3,000 for his children.

An Illinois-based spokeswoman for Baxter said the company is a member of the Ripon Society and that it only flew Members on corporate planes when they specifically requested it. Deborah Spak, the spokeswoman, added that the company has since changed its policy and no longer allows Members of Congress to use their corporate planes. According to lobbying disclosures, Baxter is a client of Kessler and Associates.

“I think what Ripon had done was go back and look at what didn’t meet the ethics rules, what they couldn’t pay for and what would have to be reimbursed under the guidelines,” Eastman said. “We said, ‘We’re going to pay the whole bill.’”

As for the delay in receiving an accounting of the trip’s costs, Eastman said, “I’m sure [Camp] wishes more people billed him at a nine-month lag. The bottom line with all these rules is that nothing is improperly funded. There will be full disclosure in the FEC filings.”

Eastman said the Congressman’s general impression of the trip was positive and that Camp, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, found it an opportunity to talk about “tax policies and other issues that businesses were facing.” He also said that health care was a topic.

Brett Kappel, a lawyer who specializes in campaign finance and lobbying ethics at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, said a campaign fund can pay for expenses that are unrelated to campaigning as long as they are involved with a Member’s duties.

“As long as [Camp] was going there for official business, if he’s there related to his position as a Member of Congress and if it was a fact-finding trip, he can use his campaign funds,” he said.

George McNeill, a Vermont-based consultant who serves as chief administrative officer of the Ripon Society, said that in other events sponsored by Ripon, the group has sent the necessary information to Members’ offices within 30 days after the trip.

“This literally fell through the cracks,” said McNeill, who did not go on the trip. “We thought it had been filed.”

McNeill added that a former employee of Ripon, one he declined to name, had been responsible for sending Members’ information for ethics reports and had not sent the information. “Because the lady that was in charge of that always did a very good job at that, we assumed that it had been sent. We sent it as soon as we could.”

McNeill said the purpose of the trip was to educate Members about a particular area of the country and “to give some businesses an opportunity to showcase their products and the technology they were using.”

McNeill said he didn’t know which companies were involved in the trip, but said the Congressmen visited the Chicago Stock Exchange and a hospital.

One source familiar with the Chicago trip, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, said the nine-month delay in reporting the trip is the result of “faulty and sloppy paperwork done by the Ripon Society.”

This source added: “Nobody cared about it until all this heightened scrutiny of Congressional travel started breaking in the news, then people started backtracking to refile paperwork to cover up their professional and ethical lapses.”

Kessler’s lobbying firm attracted attention recently for a 2003 trip to Ireland that five Members had reported was paid for by Kessler and Associates. House rules bar lobbyists and their firms from paying for such trips. Since the story came out in The Hill and other newspapers, the Members and Kessler have said that Kessler and Associates’ parent company CBIZ Century Business Services Inc. actually footed the bill for the travel.

Kessler did not return a call for comment.