The Daily Beast
Caroline BrehmanWhen it first got here out final week that Rep. Matt Gaetz was underneath investigation for his sexual involvement with a 17-year-old, the Florida Republican stated his travel information would exonerate him.“It is a horrible allegation, and it is a lie,” Gaetz informed Tucker Carlson on Fox News per week in the past. “The New York Times is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman, and that is verifiably false. People can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case.”What Gaetz knew—or ought to have recognized—is that there are not any such public information, at the very least not in relation to his personal life.There are, nevertheless, marketing campaign filings. Among all of the Matt Gaetz revelations final week was the information that the Justice Department is wanting into the Florida Republican’s potential use of marketing campaign funds for private bills. And the fact of these campaign-finance stories is that they elevate extra questions than they reply about these alleged scandals.“The spending surrounding the Gaetz campaign simply doesn’t say what he wants it to say,” Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a campaign-finance watchdog, informed The Daily Beast. “One, the reports don’t offer specific information; and two, it’s not clear whether he’s even saying that his campaign filings will exonerate him. If he’s paying out of pocket, we won’t know the answers without a subpoena.”As Gaetz is aware of, his marketing campaign filings don’t have any form of data that might show he by no means participated in a intercourse ring or paid for the travel of an underage minor. What his filings do present, although, is that Gaetz had an in depth relationship with Joel Greenberg—the Seminole County tax collector indicted on sex-trafficking prices.The Daily Beast reported final week that on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018, Greenberg requested one in all his tax workplace staff to make an emergency substitute driver’s license for Gaetz, who Greenberg stated had misplaced his ID the evening earlier than.“Amy- is there anyway to assist one of our Congressmen in getting an emergency replacement ID or DL by Tuesday 2pm?” Greenberg wrote within the textual content.But Gaetz isn’t a Seminole County resident. The first data on the county’s drivers license web site says the workplace “will process only ‘Seminole County Residents’ for ALL Driver License or ID Card services. No exceptions will be made.” The website tells candidates that if they’ll’t produce proof of residency, “a ticket for driver license or ID card services will NOT be serviced.”The web site additionally makes clear that the county workplace “is NOT directly affiliated with the local Florida State Driver License Office” and serves solely “to perform very limited license issuance functions.”Seminole County is centrally situated, on the outskirts of Orlando, a number of hours from Gaetz’s Panhandle district. That Monday was Labor Day, and the congressman was catching that Tuesday flight to return to D.C. after campaigning throughout his home district for re-election that November.But the marketing campaign’s Federal Election Commission filings for August and September reveal just one expense to an Orlando vendor: a $439.91 cost to the upscale Rosen Centre Hotel, paid Sept. 28 as a part of the marketing campaign’s month-to-month credit-card invoice. The actual date of the keep can’t be recognized with out Gaetz producing receipts—or with out the DOJ producing a subpoena.Libowitz stated the resort expense is “a tough one to pull off” underneath campaign-finance legal guidelines that prohibit the conversion of funds to non-public use.“It makes sense if he had to pick up the ID,” Libowitz stated. “But I don’t know why a sitting congressman wouldn’t be able to do that on his own, in his own county, and why he’d have to get a friend to do it for him.”As Libowitz famous to The Daily Beast, the filings don’t inform the total story. “You can only use campaign funds for efforts that go towards an election. So under the theory that he went to Orlando to get a license unlawfully, he would have a tough case to make—that it’s appropriate to use your campaign to get around state law,” he stated. “And that would be a stretch.”According to The Daily Beast’s evaluate, the Gaetz marketing campaign committee—Friends of Matt Gaetz—has during the last 4 years spent about $57,000 on airfares, $57,000 on lodging, $9,000 on miscellaneous travel, $40,000 on items, and about $24,000 on meals.It’s doable all of these bills are official. The Gaetz marketing campaign didn’t reply to the The Daily Beast’s questions concerning the expenditures. But with the DOJ his campaign-spending stories, a lot of the costs could possibly be troublesome to elucidate.Perhaps essentially the most mysterious is one in all his smallest—a parking price.Throughout his August 2018 recess, it seems Gaetz’s automobile was parked at an airport. On Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, Gaetz paid $382 to take a look at of the Republic Parking storage at Pensacola International Airport, in his home district. The highest fee on the time was $11 a day, indicating a automobile had been parked there for greater than a month. (A supervisor on the storage in query informed The Daily Beast that their system might solely do one automobile at a time on a ticket, so it could not have been a number of automobiles.)The submitting signifies that the cost got here from Gaetz himself, and that he was reimbursed later that day.Notably, in 4 years of finance information, the Gaetz marketing campaign has not paid for parking anyplace else, at some other time.“That is a strange one,” Libowitz stated. “Presumably he’d have someone drop him off or take a shuttle or Uber. And if someone else picked up the car, then why would Gaetz be reimbursed? This one needs an explanation.”The Gaetz marketing campaign has additionally dropped a complete of about $3,000 on the four-star Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach, California, FEC filings present, starting in July 2018. Gaetz himself paid up entrance for the primary go to, and was subsequently reimbursed by the marketing campaign. However, the one public report of a campaign-related Gaetz sighting within the space is from Oct. 26, 2020, when he addressed the Freedom Forum in Newport Beach. FEC filings mirror a cost to the resort of $475 three weeks later.Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at authorities watchdog the Campaign Legal Center, informed The Daily Beast that the FEC needs campaigns to make the preliminary transaction dates clear—not simply the date that the invoice was paid. Gaetz can not use public information to clear himself in the event that they don’t disclose the precise dates and spenders.“This is something the FEC should catch,” Fischer stated. “It’s tough to tell on the face who was traveling and for what purpose. So it can be really hard just from a public report to tell the difference between a legit expense and personal use of funds.”Fischer stated these aberrations are “the kind of thing prosecutors are going to be looking at,” as a result of they might point out private use of marketing campaign funds, which federal regulation prohibits.“If the DOJ is investigating his campaign’s spending, they’re very likely going to be looking for documentation to support his own expenses and reimbursements,” Fischer stated. “It’s permissible to use campaign funds to pay for travel and office expenses, but it’s not permissible to use them for a ‘sugar daddy’ slush fund.”One spending merchandise that has ramped up just lately is authorized charges. The month after Greenberg was first indicted—June 2020—Gaetz paid the regulation agency Venable LLP $38,000, nearly 4 instances the quantity it paid to regulation companies over the earlier 5 years. In all, the marketing campaign has shelled out at the very least $64,400 to Venable for authorized work since Greenberg was charged.Salon reported in October that the Trump Organization appeared to have minimize Gaetz an unlawful sweetheart deal on lodging on the Trump International Hotel. Gaetz later informed the Florida Phoenix, “I don’t believe I stayed there,” and that the 4 separate prices—between $216.20 and $261.47, a part of an Aug. 27 credit-card invoice and particularly designated for lodging—might need been “associated with food and beverage for political meetings that I was doing.”The marketing campaign shortly filed an amended report that modified the dates of the funds to 3 consecutive days from July 27-29, and one other on Aug. 1. The report additionally swapped “lodging” for “meals.” A since-deleted Instagram photograph confirmed Gaetz within the resort foyer on Aug. 27, the unique cost date, and he was additionally photographed on Aug. 27 arriving on the resort with what seems to be a swimsuit in hand.The marketing campaign additionally picked up $14,000 in bills for a Nov. 8, 2019, occasion for a Donald Trump Jr. e book signing at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. Gaetz’s congressional workplace staffer Ali Thomas seems to have joined him for that journey, and was reimbursed nearly $1,000 in travel prices.Thomas began the 12 months as an intern at $57 a day, and by Nov. 1 she was director of operations, at an $84,000 wage. She nonetheless holds the place. FEC stories present it was the one time the marketing campaign reimbursed her.Again, there may be nothing essentially nefarious about any of Gaetz’s marketing campaign filings. However, with the data that the DOJ is analyzing his marketing campaign expenditures as a part of its bigger investigation, a lot of his most suspicious bills might require further rationalization. But even when all of his filings are official, they definitely don’t exonerate him from allegations that he paid for a 17-year-old to travel for the needs of an unlawful sexual encounter, significantly when these bills might have been paid privately.While these points stands out as the least of Gaetz’s worries, they might nonetheless serve to be damning, even when they’re laborious to show.Libowitz illustrated the difficulties of fact-checking Gaetz’s claims of innocence by pointing to the case of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who was sentenced in January 2020 for diverting a whole lot of 1000’s of marketing campaign funds to his private use—an investigation that his group, CREW, kicked off with a marketing campaign finance grievance.“The FBI and DOJ found more than twice as many things as we did, going back years before,” Libowitz stated. “There’s a limit to what you can learn from finance documents, and I don’t think you’ll find a smoking gun in either direction without a subpoena or a clear explanation from him. But in my professional experience, members of Congress who do one thing bad tend to do a lot of things bad.”Read extra at The Daily Beast.Get our prime tales in your inbox day by day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the tales that matter to you. Learn extra.