Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy has spent more than $5,500 from his campaign fund since 2014 on membership dues to the Penn Club of New York City, an elite private club more than 1,000 miles from the Republican’s hometown of Baton Rouge, disclosures with the Federal Election Commission show.
Cassidy has also disclosed spending another $650 in campaign funds on membership fees closer to home at the Petroleum Club of Morgan City in Louisiana, a social club founded by businessmen in the oil industry. The club offers fine dining, events and drinks.
But FEC rules say membership dues for country clubs, health clubs or “other nonpolitical organizations” are considered personal uses that cannot be paid from campaign accounts “unless the payments are made in connection with a specific fundraising event that takes place on the organization’s premises.”
Cassidy campaign spokesman Ty Bofferding denied any wrongdoing in an emailed statement: “The Senator uses the Penn Club for campaign events and we believe everything was done appropriately.”
Although the FEC allows members to use campaign cash for particular campaign fundraising events on the grounds of a social club, that does not include membership dues for access to such a club. Cassidy’s campaign did not address this distinction, nor did it have a comment regarding the Petroleum Club of Morgan City dues. When pressed about the difference between using campaign funds for campaign events at the clubs versus membership dues, Bofferding referred to his previous statement.
The FEC regulation addresses the distinction here: “However, this exception does not cover payments made to maintain unlimited access to such a facility, even if access if (sic) maintained to facilitate fundraising activity. The exception is limited to payments for the costs of a specific fundraising event.”
Cassidy has been paying dues at the exclusive Penn Club — located in midtown Manhattan and established for alumni and affiliates of the Philadelphia-based Ivy League school, which Cassidy did not attend but his son did — since 2014.
In total, Bill Cassidy for US Senate has spent more than $12,400 at the club since 2013. In addition to dues, the costs were described as going for food, drink, fundraising events and hotel accommodations.
Erin Chlopak, campaign finance strategy director at the Campaign Legal Center who previously served as an FEC attorney, said if a campaign were to use funds for membership dues to a social club, it would not be permissible.
“Using campaign money for a social club membership, regardless of the amount, would be personal use and not legal,” Chlopak said.
“It’s not legal for a reason. It’s not what people are giving candidates money for,” she added.
Deborah Mayer, a spokeswoman for the Senate Ethics Committee, did not respond to a request for comment.
Other lawmakers have faced ethics investigations for misusing campaign funds, including for spending on membership dues.
In June, the House Ethics Committee announced it was investigating Rep. Sanford Bishop for his campaign expenditures. The Georgia Democrat has spent more than $2,000 on dues at Green Island Country Club. The investigation into Bishop began with an inquiry by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which then referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee in the Senate lacks an investigative entity similar to the Office of Congressional Ethics that could dig into senators’ financial transactions.