Local Politics

Wednesday, Jun 26 2013 12:51 PM

Congress loves goodies, and McCarthy's office has been a key provider

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    In an ABC News video screen grab, staffers carry trays of leftovers from a meeting that Rep. Kevin McCarthy had been attending in Washington, D.C. Rep. Kevin McCarthy's office has spent $95,000 on breakfast and coffee and an additional $4,000 for bottled water. The Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group advocating for government transparency, found that the House of Representatives spent nearly $2 million on coffee and food in 2012 for events in and around the Capitol.

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By CALIFORNIAN STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

The House of Representatives spent nearly $2 million on coffee and food for events in and around the Capitol last year, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, is one of the biggest spenders, according to a new report.

ABC News aired the report Tuesday night, basing it on data collected by the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group advocating government transparency.

"Congress is spending an awful lot of money to entertain their members," Bill Allison, the foundation's editorial director, told ABC News. "(It's) coffee and doughnuts and then some very nice catering places in Washington, D.C., as well."

ABC and Sunlight said the money is part of lawmakers' representational allowances, which can be used to pay for everything from sending mail to constituents to entertaining visitors.

But cuts in Washington's overall spending don't seem to be taking a bite out of the fancy spreads.

The Sunlight Foundation found that expensive catering was a bipartisan effort, with leaders hosting their own members. Republican House Speaker John Boehner spent $64,000. Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spent $61,000, and No. 2 Democrat Steny Hoyer spent $52,000.

But the biggest spender in the House, ABC reported, was No. 3 Republican McCarthy, the man who is responsible for rounding up votes. ABC said McCarthy's Facebook page at one time featured pictures of meetings that include fruit, bagels, croissants and coffee.

McCarthy's 2012 grand total -- $95,000, with an additional $4,000 being spent on bottled water -- was enough to pay the salaries of two mid-level staffers on Capitol Hill.

"That's a couple of jobs for the average American," Allison said.

The New York Daily News cited a report that said McCarthy spent "$9,789 on food and drink during the last three months of 2012, including equally generous outings at Chicken Out Catering and Buca di Beppo Italian restaurant, in Washington."

The Daily News also reported that Boehner had $11,225 in food-and-beverage expenses, including $2,000 for coffee, and that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., spent about $3,000.

McCarthy declined an ABC News request for an interview. When reached by The Californian on Wednesday, a staffer sent this email statement from McCarthy:

"Traditionally, the whip office customarily offered food such as pizza to the entire Republican membership on days the House voted late in the evening. We have made cuts in all parts of our budget, which is why we ended providing food when votes run late, and I am continuing to cut our budget.

"When House Republicans took the majority in 2010, we have annually proposed and supported cuts to our office budgets, and we have made additional cuts as a result of this year's sequestration."

When ABC News approached McCarthy as he walked down a hallway in the Capitol to ask about the nearly $100,000 spent to cater meetings and dinner, he responded: "You noticed. We cut it out."

Actually, the network reported, what ABC News noticed were the leftovers from a meeting McCarthy had just attended. A staffer even offered a bagel. Vince Fong, district director for McCarthy, told The Californian late Wednesday that the meeting was not hosted by his boss.

McCarthy said he was making cuts, but his office did not provide any numbers.

Sunlight's Allison said Americans should ask their leaders to buy their own coffee and pastries.

"We are in an age of austerity and sequestration and budget cuts," Allison said. "It seems like if you are looking for places to cut, the entertainment budget would be the first one you would go to."

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