Andrews says he will repay campaign for wedding trip

Posted: November 22, 2011

One day after he defended a family trip to Scotland as a legitimate political expense, U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) said he would repay his campaign and redirect the money to homeless veterans.

But Andrews said he would not reimburse his campaign coffers for other events where personal and political have mingled.

In 2009, he spent $33,000 for a party to celebrate his inauguration to the 111th Congress and his daughter Jacquelyn's Sweet Sixteen party, according to campaign-finance reports. In June, he threw a similar bash at his Haddon Heights home to celebrate his 20 years in Congress and Jacquelyn's high school graduation. It cost his campaign $10,000, according to financial disclosures.

"Those are absolutely within the spirit and the letter of the law," Andrews said Tuesday evening. Campaign funds were used solely for the political elements of the parties; he paid for costs of his daughter's celebrations with his own money.

Andrews withdrew more than $10,000 from his campaign fund to attend a wedding in Edinburgh in June for a donor and volunteer adviser. Andrews paid $7,725 for him and his family to stay at a five-star hotel and $463 for the wedding gift of china. He took $2,610 from his campaign fund for petty cash for the trip, according to federal campaign-finance reports.

Andrews, 54, maintains that expensing the trip to his campaign was legal. But on Tuesday he decided to repay the money because chatter about it had become a distraction.

"We couldn't talk about it and work on the issues people really care about," Andrews said.

For government watchdog organizations and Republicans, the repayment is too little too late.

"Much like an apprehended bank robber cannot be absolved of his crimes by returning the stolen money, neither can Rep. Andrews evade responsibility for his actions by returning the campaign funds," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). "Further, the Scotland trip is not the only instance in which the congressman misappropriated campaign funds for his personal use."

CREW plans to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission asking the agency to examine Andrews' expenses. Meanwhile, the Camden County GOP sent a letter Tuesday to the House Committee on Ethics calling for an investigation.

Craig Holman, a congressional ethics expert and lobbyist with the nonpartisan group Public Citizen, said Andrews might have done enough to keep investigators off his back.

"Rep. Andrews' use of campaign funds for personal benefit runs afoul both of campaign finance laws and House ethics rules," he said. "His decision to pay for his personal trip, albeit indirectly with a donation to charity, is likely to provide the reluctant enforcement agencies - the FEC and House Ethics Committee - with an excuse to pursue their favorite course of action: Ignore it."

Andrews' use of his campaign fund came under scrutiny this week after the trip to Scotland, first reported in the Star-Ledger, came to light.

The wedding in Scotland was part of a larger European vacation Andrews took with his family. He personally paid for their airfare and other parts of the trip, he said, expensing only the wedding costs.

He attended the event as a way to thank a donor, a practice he said he often used to keep money and volunteers coming to his campaign. He would not have attended the wedding if it did not benefit his campaign, he said.

He used the same argument for other expenditures that raised eyebrows among congressional ethics experts interviewed this week.

Andrews used campaign funds for a June party to celebrate his 20 years in Congress and Jacquelyn's graduation from the Baldwin School, a private girls school in Bryn Mawr. The events were listed together on an invitation received by The Inquirer on Tuesday. It was printed on stationery that reads "paid for and authorized by Andrews for Congress."

Andrews also has used campaign funds for trips to California with his younger daughter, Josie, an aspiring actress and singer.

But Andrews and his chief of staff, Fran Tagmire, insist that Andrews has followed campaign-finance rules regarding the parties and trips.

"Well over 300 people attended" the June party, Tagmire said in an e-mail. "Fewer than 10 percent of the attendees were from Jacquelyn's list. Nevertheless, the family paid well over 10 percent of the costs from personal funds. The family's personal expenditures exceeded $6,000 for its share of the event."

Andrews wants to stop talking about his expenses and return to working on ways to put more Americans back to work, he said. He is tallying the costs of the Scotland trip and, after repaying the campaign, will redirect that amount to help area homeless veterans through the nonprofit Volunteers of America.

"There is nothing I value in public life more than the trust and respect of my constituents," he said in a statement Tuesday.

Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for the nonpartisan citizens lobby Common Cause, said Andrews missed the point.

"Giving the money to homeless veterans brings him back to the original problem: spending other people's contributions in a way they did not intend," she said. "Yes, this is a far worthier cause than a family vacation, but it is still not using the money the way it was intended to be used."

Andrews says his campaign donates to many charities, and he thinks people appreciate it.

"I think people like the idea that political funds pay for something other than nasty political ads," he said.

If he is remembered as a guy who spent money for homeless veterans, he said, "then I plead guilty as charged."


Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 856-779-3237, jfarrell@phillynews.com, or @joellefarrell on Twitter.

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