Remember that story earlier this year about Rep. Devin Nunes blowing $15,000 in Leadership PAC money to go watch his favorite basketball team, the Boston Celtics, live and in person?
Well, a review of Nunes’ Leadership PAC records indicates that he also has been spending Leadership PAC money on swanky, overseas travel– namely an apparent vacation to his family’s native Portugal.
According to a letter sent to the Federal Elections Commission in October by the Swamp Accountability Project, a group that has been deeply critical of Nunes, “Nunes financed a trip to Portugal including a visit to the swanky Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa hotel using Leadership PAC funds.”
The letter adds:
As you are no doubt aware, Rep. Nunes is of Portuguese descent; since 2013, he has been a “Grand Officer” of the Portuguese “Order of Prince Henry”; he likely boasts many friends and family in Portugal. However, as Portuguese citizens who do not also maintain U.S. citizenship or are not U.S. green card holders are not eligible to vote in U.S. elections or donate to American political campaigns—and the number who are, are very few— there is no legitimate ethical purpose we can identify for this expenditure. Notably, Rep. Nunes does not sit on the House Foreign Affairs Committee at all, let alone the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, membership of either of which might justify expending Leadership PAC funds on travel to Portugal.
The reality is that along with the expenditures on Celtics tickets, these items appear wholly unrelated to Nunes’ current or potential future government service, or political “leadership.” They are simply expenditures on luxury items of high personal value to him, given his interests and background, which have been financed by Leadership PAC donors.
The letter continues with detail about the hotel in question, making it clear that it is a luxe environment and not exactly the equivalent of a Holiday Inn Express:
[The hotel] describes itself as “the place to see and be seen, a natural meeting point for celebrities” and boasts a “unique swimming pool amidst the fronds of its semi-tropical garden,” a “luxurious world of Anantara SPA,” and a “palatial 19th century Conference and Events Centre”…
It is unclear from Nunes’ PAC filings how much was spent in total on the Portugal trip.
Airline tickets booked in the US, for example, would not show up as a “foreign” expense (the way the payment of foreign hotel bills directly to foreign hotels do).
It is also possible that if a hotel in Portugal were booked through a site like Orbitz, the booking cost would not show up as “foreign,” either.
This means that Nunes could potentially have spent thousands of Leadership PAC dollars on what was essentially a trip to check in with family and friends that has no apparent bearing on his political “leadership” within the US.
While less controversial than the expenditure of Leadership PAC money on Celtics tickets, the spending further underlines a pattern in which Nunes appears to be using his political station for his personal benefit to a very large degree.
It also arguably underlines a difference between himself and Central Valley Hispanics that he has arguably tried to obscure: Nunes is of Portuguese descent, whereas most Hispanics in the Central Valley are of Mexican American, or Central American descent.
A report from KQED underlines that this is a potential problem for Nunes:
Geoffrey Callow, who works at the nursery, says he voted for Nunes in the past — by mistake.
Callow believed the congressman was Latino because of his last name. Nunes and several other local congressmen, including Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Merced, come from dairy farming families that came to the Central Valley from Portugal’s Azores Islands.
“I saw ‘Nunes’ and I’m Hispanic, so I thought, ‘Oh — he’s gonna be for us.’ But then Trump got elected and I kind of realized what (Nunes) is about,” Callow says.
Will the FEC act on complaints regarding Nunes’ Leadership PAC expenditures to curb the permissibility of Leadership PACs covering their principals’ “personal” expenses, such as extensive visits to Boston to watch basketball games or trips to swanky hotels in European capitals? Stay tuned.
You can read the full Swamp Accountability Project letter here.