U.S. Rep. Andrews' travels under scrutiny again

U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) is under scrutiny for spending $12,000 in campaign funds on a trip to California.
U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) is under scrutiny for spending $12,000 in campaign funds on a trip to California. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 11, 2012

U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews' travels are under scrutiny again.

This time, the New Jersey Democrat is drawing criticism for spending $12,000 in campaign cash for a trip to California that coincided with a music recording session for his 16-year-old daughter, according to his latest campaign-finance filings and the production studio's Facebook page.

Andrews, 54, of Haddon Heights, declined through a spokesman to say with whom he met in California or whether his daughter's activities related to his fund-raising there. He also refused to release receipts for the trip to back up previous claims that he keeps his political and personal expenses separate when he travels with his family.

"The California trip . . . was for the purpose of fund-raising activities and political meetings with members of the higher education community, two separate foreign policy advocacy groups, and various members of the entertainment and legal industries," Andrews' chief of staff, Fran Tagmire, said in a statement. "California has typically been one of the campaign's top states for financial support. The full public disclosure of these legal and proper expenses, including the accompaniment of his minor daughter and her participation, is consistent with the law in all respects."

Andrews raised $5,000 during the trip, and reported raising an additional $3,750 from California residents or businesses between Oct. 1, 2011, and the end of the year.

He raised much more - about $24,000 - from California-linked donors between July 1 and Oct. 31, when he visited California twice with his daughter Josie, an aspiring pop singer.

Andrews, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. House, is up for reelection in November. Republicans are still deciding on a candidate, said Camden County GOP Chairman Thomas Booth Jr. Andrews typically has won reelection with wide margins.

Questions about Andrews' spending practices in recent months have led a congressional watchdog group, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, to call on federal officials to audit his account.

"It's highly suspicious that he would refuse to release records," said Craig Holman, an ethics expert and lobbyist with the nonpartisan group Public Citizen. "If he were complying with the law, you'd think he'd be perfectly willing to disclose records showing his daughter's expenses were paid for with private funds and not campaign funds."

Booth used harsher language.

"I believe that he's using his campaign fund as his own personal piggy bank, and I think it shows a callous disregard for the rules," he said. "I think that it is a symptom of a politician who is way too comfortable and has lost touch with the voters in the First Congressional District."

Andrews first came under fire in November, when it was revealed that he spent $13,540 to attend a donor's wedding in Scotland, including $7,725 for three nights at the five-star Balmoral Hotel. Andrews took his wife and two daughters with him.

Although Andrews said the trip was a legitimate campaign expense to thank a donor, he repaid the money to his campaign when news media reported on the trip. Andrews then redirected the money to a local organization that helps homeless veterans.

But Andrews has not repaid his campaign for other trips and parties with mixed personal and political purposes.

Andrews made five trips to California in 2011, in February, April, July, August and November, campaign finance reports show. Josie Andrews had recording sessions in April, July, August and November, according to a Facebook page for the music production company Vendetta.

His most recent trip cost $7,237 in airfare alone, according to the latest report with the Federal Election Commission. The report lists five separate entries for airfare between Philadelphia and California, which Tagmire declined to explain.

Andrews spent $3,200 on a stay at the Beverly Hills Plaza Hotel, billed between Nov. 9 and 13. He spent nearly $1,600 on car service from "Best Limo."

Andrews also has spent campaign funds on parties that celebrated himself and his older daughter, Jacquelyn.

In 2009, he spent $33,000 for a party to celebrate his inauguration to the 111th Congress and 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 graduation from the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr. It cost his campaign $10,000, according to financial disclosures.

When asked in November about the parties and trips, Andrews said he paid for his daughters' expenses from his own personal accounts, using the campaign cash for political aspects of the events only. He has refused to release receipts.

An invitation received by The Inquirer last fall listed both events in June on the same invitation. It was printed on stationery that read "paid for and authorized by Andrews for Congress."

Members of Congress are forbidden from using campaign funds for personal use, but enforcers such as the FEC give politicians a lot of room to justify their expenses, said Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer with the watchdog group the Campaign Legal Center.

"Joint travel that has taken place for multiple purposes is certainly very common from the president down to the most junior member of the House," he said, adding it's "among the most difficult places to draw lines."

In 2009, the FEC found that Andrews misused his campaign funds for personal use when he bought clothes after an airline lost his luggage. Andrews had repaid the money by the time the agency ruled, so he was not fined or otherwise punished.

CERW sent a letter to the FEC in November asking the agency to audit Andrews. Booth also sent letters to the House Ethics Committee and the U.S. attorney.

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

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