Updated 11:58 a.m. Feb. 13 | Over a three-year span, Rep. John Moolenaar spent $22,839 on ski and snowmobile activities, lodging at the Four Seasons, and catering in and around Vail, Colorado, from his leadership political action committee.
Members of Congress are prohibited from converting campaign funds for personal use and must be able to verify that those resources have not been misused. Further, House rules broadly define “campaign funds” to include “leadership PAC” funds, meaning Moolenaar, a Michigan Republican, would be in violation of House rules if those expenditures did not have a legitimate campaign purpose.
According to the Federal Election Commission, a leadership PAC is: “a political committee that is directly or indirectly established, financed, maintained or controlled by a candidate or an individual holding a federal office. The committee is not an authorized committee of the candidate or office holder, and is not affiliated with an authorized committee of a candidate or office holder. Members of Congress and other political leaders often establish these nonconnected committees to support candidates for federal and nonfederal offices.”
David Russell, a spokesman for Moolenaar’s congressional office, did not comment for this story initially. After publication, he sent along the following statement: “All expenditures have been public record for years and they are in compliance with House rules and federal election laws on a trip that members on both sides of the aisle have gone on in years past. The funds raised by Congressman Moolenaar helped support dozens of Republican candidates. The information in this article has been transparently reported in compliance with the law and Congressman Moolenaar will continue to focus on the key priorities for Michigan including protecting the Great Lakes, building a new Soo Lock, and supporting Michigan farmers.”
Moolenaar’s campaign did not return a request for comment.
In 2018 and 2019, Moolenaar spent a total of $21,587 — from his leadership PAC, Together United for Liberty, Integrity and Prosperity PAC — at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vail. In FEC filings, that spending is described as event food, beverages, accommodations and catering.
That PAC, which was organized in 2015, lists Moolenaar and the Moolenaar Victory Fund as affiliates.
Vail is a posh ski town and vacation destination with resorts and a multitude of winter activities, including snowboarding, skiing and snowmobiling.
The House Ethics Committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics declined to comment.
Between 2017 and 2018, Moolenaar’s leadership PAC spent $592 on Nova Guides Red Cliff Co., a company that offers snowmobile tours and other winter recreation activities. Those costs were for event activities, according to the FEC filings.
In 2018, his leadership PAC spent $270 at Vail Ski School. He also spent $390 in 2019 at Vail Backcountry Tours, a company that provides snowmobile tours. Both those instances were documented with the FEC as event activities.
There have been past investigations of lawmakers who allegedly used leadership PAC money to fund personal endeavors that led to official congressional investigations by both OCE and the House Ethics Committee.
Former Rep. Robert Andrews was investigated by the OCE in 2012 for possibly using leadership PAC money to finance a family excursion to Scotland in 2011. OCE deemed there was a “substantial reason to believe” he improperly used leadership PAC money for personal use. OCE voted unanimously to send the Andrews matter to the House Ethics Committee for further review.
The Ethics Committee investigated Andrews but did not come to a determination on the issue before the New Jersey Democrat resigned from Congress in 2014. However, the committee did establish an investigative subcommittee, meaning the committee deemed it appropriate to pursue a heightened level of inquiry on the matter.
Rep. Bill Huizenga is currently under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for reporting campaign expenditures that “may not be legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes.” The OCE transmitted its report on the Michigan Republican to the House Ethics Committee in August of 2019. In November, the House Ethics Committee made OCE’s report public and announced it was conducting a further review of Huizenga’s matter.