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Rep. Alex X. Mooney’s campaign spent funds that raise personal use questions

West Virginia Republican spent campaign funds on resort trips, wineries

Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., has spent campaign funds on wineries, tobacco shops and resorts.
Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., has spent campaign funds on wineries, tobacco shops and resorts. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Alex X. Mooney spent more than $1,900 in campaign funds at Chick-fil-A over the course of 53 transactions, many near his residence in Charles Town, West Virginia. He also paid just over $4,500 at Rooster’s Amish Shed for three equipment purchases in 2018. And he spent thousands on resorts and hotels in his home state.

Since 2017, Alex Mooney for Congress has doled out more than $49,000 on fuel, food, drinks, wineries, resort stays and international travel, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis of Federal Election Commission records.

Federal law allows members to use campaign money for expenditures relating to campaign or officeholder activity, meaning it can include international travel and resort stays. However, House rules and federal law have strict prohibitions on campaign spending for personal use and whether a specific expense is legitimate depends on the context of each expense.

Mark Harris, a consultant for the the West Virginia Republican’s campaign, said all the expenses are “legitimate” and provided a rationale for many of the expenses, explaining why they were tied to the campaign or official activity.

When it came to the Chick-fil-A spending, Harris said President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee also spent a lot of money on the fast food chain.

“A quick FEC search shows $72k the Trump campaign / RNC has spent on Chick-Fil-A just this year so I think we’re in good company,” Harris said in an email.

Mooney, first elected to West Virginia’s 2nd District in 2014, spent over $6,100 on travel at various resorts and hotels in the Mountain State. That includes spending at Smoke Hole Caverns and Log Cabin Resort, Ace Adventure Resort and Canaan Valley Resort. Ace Adventure Resort is a vacation destination complete with whitewater rafting, a water park, rock climbing and all-terrain vehicle tours. Canaan Valley Resort offers skiing, snowboarding and golf, among other leisure activities. These expenses were for staff meetings and fundraisers, according to Harris.

Mooney’s campaign spent over $640 at Smoke Hole Outfitters, Appalachian Boarding Company and Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle. More than $140 was spent by Mooney’s campaign at Appalachian Boarding Company, an enterprise that provides paddle board rentals. Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle — a bike, kayak and canoe shop — received $48 from Mooney’s campaign for what was described as “office supplies.”

The Smoke Hole Outfitters expense was to take Mooney’s staff trout fishing and for a tour, Harris said.

“This was related to an official all-staff meeting and was for them to go trout fishing and on a tour of the caverns at Smoke Hole,” Harris said.

House lawmakers are provided with a budget to support official and representational duties for their district called the Members’ Representational Allowance. The MRA, which comes from federal appropriations rather than campaign contributors, is used for salaries of official employees and expenses in the office, among a myriad other uses.

Harris said the Appalachian Boarding Company expenses were for when Mooney visited a constituent’s small business and they went paddleboarding. The Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle expense was for a tuneup to Mooney’s bike so he could ride across his district, according to Harris. The 2nd District stretches from the state capital of Charleston in the west to the Washington, D.C., exurbs in the Eastern Panhandle.

Mooney’s committee also used campaign cash for everyday expenses, such as gas and food. His campaign committee spent over $9,700 on expenses labeled as “travel” to fuel companies such as Shell, Sheetz and Sunoco. The overwhelming majority of these 298 purchases were in West Virginia.

More than $5,000 of his campaign money went to travel expenses at Advanced Auto Authority Services Inc, an automobile repair company in Ranson, West Virginia, near Mooney’s residence. This was for a campaign car, Harris said.

The campaign spent more than $5,100 on food and beverage. Most of the grocery store purchases — including at Weis Markets, WalMart and Martin’s — took place in West Virginia.

Many in-state expenses — which include fuel, food and hotels — are for the extensive travel Mooney does across his district with his staff, Harris said. The disbursements at Rooster’s Amish Shed were for campaign materials, including signs, he added.

Mooney’s campaign spent $710 at liquor stores and wineries, including $333 at Trump Winery in Charlottesville, Virginia. He also spent in excess of $670 on food and beverage at President Cigar in D.C., and The Smoking Head LLC in Charles Town. The alcohol and cigar expenses are related to fundraising, Harris said.

On the Smoking Head Facebook page, the description reads: “For a better selection of fine cigars, tobacco, vape products, juices and glassware at the area’s best prices, stop by The Smoking Head!”

Mooney also paid Comcast over $3,800 for utilities. These are for campaign internet costs, according to Harris.

“Personal use of campaign funds is prohibited, and some of these expenses raise questions as to whether they are personal in nature,” Kedric Payne, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center and former deputy chief counsel for the Office of Congressional Ethics, said in an email. “Transparency is essential and it is the responsibility of the member of Congress to reassure the public and donors that these expenses are campaign-related.”

Local media outlets have reported on other components of Mooney’s campaign spending, including over $5,000 on international airfare on Turkish Airlines and TAP Air Portugal. They’ve also reported on an ethics complaint filed against Mooney concerning his expenditures, including in California.

Jerry Payne — a Democrat and resident of Ripley, West Virginia — told CQ Roll Call he filed a complaint about Mooney’s campaign spending with the Office of Congressional Ethics in August. (Payne has no relation to the aforementioned government ethics expert.) OCE does not make complaints received by the office available to the public.

Mooney spent over $6,100 in California on travel, food and beverage. That includes a food and beverage purchase for $86 at Three Broomsticks, a Harry Potter-themed restaurant in Universal Studios Hollywood. These expenses were for fundraising and the Three Broomsticks expense was for a meal with a donor, Harris said.

Tom Rust, a spokesman for the House Ethics Committee, did not comment.

William Beaman, a spokesman for OCE, did not comment.

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