House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spent $2,993 in taxpayer money on flowers between June and October. House Majority Whip James Clyburn has a thing for Chantilly Donuts, spending about $265 at the Virginia shop in the past quarter. And Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a fiscal conservative, decided to give about $2,000 in unused office funds back to the government to help reduce the deficit.
These expenditures – culled from thousands of line items released Monday by the Chief Administrative Officer of the House – are just a fraction of the $300 million spent last quarter by House offices. But while the bulk of congressional office spending goes to salaries and routine office expenses, some of the line items offer a window into the personalities and priorities of each congressional office.
Pelosi, who has come under fire in the past for spending on flowers, also spent roughly $30,610 in food and beverage and about $2,740 on bottled water, contributing to the nearly $120,531 total from all congressional leadership accounts. Her offices defended the charges, saying the Speaker’s office holds more ceremonial events with visiting dignitaries than other congressional offices. They also use a local florist, and about a third of her flower expenses this quarter were for Jack Kemp’s funeral.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) racked up about $24,617 in catering costs. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) spent about $1,561 in bottled water and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) spent no money on water but a touch over $18,000 in food. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) spent about $24,116 on food and beverage.
These line by line expenditures used to come just in bound green books, but for the first time ever, Pelosi requested that the reports also be put online this quarter.
The nearly 3,400 digitized pages were released Monday afternoon and touted by Pelosi as expanding “accountability to taxpayers and the press.”
Most of the expenditures seem standard – everything from individual staff salaries to office supplies is listed. Most offices order food from the Capitol Host in-house catering service, but others order from outside locales. Clyburn, for example, frequently purchases donuts for his office from Chantilly Donuts in Virginia, where he spent about $265 in the period stretching from June until the end of September.
One of the biggest line items for congressional offices outside of salaries tends to be the pricy subscriptions to Congressional Quarterly, which produces high end legislative tracking products, a magazine and a daily publication. Cantor and Boehner together spent $69,832.50 on the company’s publications – Boehner spent $48,085 on CQ publications.
Lawmakers appear to have great flexibility on what qualifies as an office expense. Money is spent on everything from security services for district offices to thousands in mileage reimbursements for individuals’ cars. Taxpayers foot the bill for leasing cars for members, including cars for Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).
Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) spent $28,410 with a market communications firm to send a newsletter to his constituents, querying them on issues ranging from the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, earmark reform and health care. A spokesman said it was sent to 196,000 constituents and is just “one of the many tools Congressman Kirk uses to communicate with constituents.”
Some even have money left over to give back to the government. Walz and Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) both returned about $2,500 to cut away at the deficit. Bachus, a fiscal conservative, said he does not take cost-of-living increases in the middle of a congressional term.