Firebrand conservative Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who has long campaigned on his distaste for wasteful government spending, spent lavishly using his congressional expense account in Washington, D.C.
King has billed taxpayers for more than $18,000 of food and beverages at the Capitol Hill Club, the private dining restaurant and bar reserved for GOP politicians and their guests, according to congressional disbursement records reviewed by The Intercept.
Meals at the Capitol Hill Club are costly: The breakfast buffet events run $34 per person and the chicken breast dinner costs $49.
The pricey membership club, located just across the street from the Cannon House Office Building and next to the Republican National Committee, is known as a convenient venue for lobbyists-hosted fundraisers. Meals there are costly: The breakfast buffet events run $34 per person and the chicken breast dinner costs $49.
King has expensed meals at the private club going back to 2004, just two years after he entered federal office. King’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Lawmakers receive a special allowance for staff, travel, and constituent services-related purchases, as well as an expense account for costs associated with fulfilling official duties. Some lawmakers apportion part of their expenses for caucus retreats with fellow lawmakers or to spend it on policy-related conferences.
At least some of the expenses at the club appear to be connected to events hosted by the Conservative Opportunity Society, a congressional caucus King has led since 2015. The group meets on Wednesday mornings for breakfast, typically at the Capitol Hill Club. The group has used the taxpayer-funded events to hear remarks from a variety of conservative celebrities and authors, such as anti-Muslim activist Brigitte Gabriel and neoconservative author Bill Kristol.
The only featured legislation on the Conservative Opportunity Society website is a single abortion restriction bill, one that is already supported by other anti-abortion causes. The relatively small caucus has little influence compared to other, more prominent conservative caucus groups, such as the Republican Study Committee or the Freedom Caucus. Nevertheless, King appears to have spent at least $14,000 on caucus-related events at the Capitol Hill Club over the last three years.
The Capitol Hill Club has attracted some critical attention as a favorite haunt for Republican lawmakers. Former House Speaker John Boehner once chastised his members for getting too drunk with lobbyists at the club. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who was recently indicted for fraudulent campaign spending, racked up a $138,666 tab at the club using donor money.
King has spent at least $118,000 on government-funded fact-finding trips abroad, including events with prominent anti-immigrant politicians throughout Europe.
King has come under scrutiny for his cozy ties to far-right groups and neo-Nazis. In September, he tweeted a link to an account controlled by a prominent white nationalist radio host. Earlier this month, King raised eyebrows for his decision to endorse an obscure white nationalist running for Toronto mayor. He has a long history of racist and bigoted comments.
The links to bigoted political actors have featured in King’s lavish public spending. He has spent at least $118,000 on government-funded fact-finding trips abroad, including events with prominent anti-immigrant politicians throughout Europe.
King has also come under scrutiny for his unusual campaign spending practices. According to the Des Moines Register, King paid his son and daughter-in-law $805,000 using his campaign account. Though the campaign money is not related to his government expense account, ethics watchdogs have questioned the arrangement, noting that King’s family appeared to be paid even when the campaign engaged in no significant activities during off years.
King’s Democratic challenger, J.D. Scholten, has sharply criticized King as out-of-touch and more focused on building his brand among peculiar far-right groups than serving the needs of the district. King declined to hold a debate with Scholten, has not held any recent town halls, and has largely ignored his challenger’s campaign.
“He’s been to Austria five out of the last six years on the taxpayers’ dime,” Scholten told an audience last week. “I want to know why. It’s not like we’re finding trade routes to Austria because of it.”