Monday, February 06, 2012

Ron Paul: Traveling Man

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 5:  Republican presid...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeAs someone who doesn't support Ron Paul's presidential campaign, I find myself coming to his defense far more often than I'd like.

One reason for that, aside from basic respect for fact -- if Paul's going to get slammed, I prefer that it be for things he deserves to get slammed on -- is that his supporters tend to "defend" him by pasting the word "smear" (with some random number of exclamation marks appended) into a blog post 50 times or so, then surrounding said word with other invective. Which, outside the most cultish precincts of Paul's following, isn't very effective.

So anyway, the latest, via Roll Call:

Rep. Ron Paul appears to have been paid twice for flights between Washington, D.C., and his Congressional district, receiving reimbursement from taxpayers and also from a network of political and nonprofit organizations he controlled, according to public records and documents obtained by Roll Call.

The story's pretty long, mostly by way of throwing in the kitchen sink to hide the fact that there's really no "there" there. Near the bottom, for those who bother to read that far, is the money quote:

Public records show hundreds of flight payments between 1999 and 2009 in which both the House and Paul's campaign paid for plane tickets of the same price and about the same date. Given the limitations of publicly reported data, in many of those cases it's not possible to conclude that the matching flight payments represent duplicate reimbursements, because the possibility of an alternate traveler cannot be disproved. Paul has not been accused of wrongdoing by any authorities.

Paul is notorious for -- or at least self-promotes on the basis of -- running a lean operation when it comes to billing taxpayers. He returns much of his permitted office budget to the US Treasury each year. So I don't find it at all surprising that when he flies back to Houston from DC, and takes a staffer (or his wife) with him, he might pick up the latter bill personally and have his campaign, rather than the taxpayers, reimburse him.

That's actually quite a good "ballpark" method of accounting for the fact that on any given trip, some of his business may be "official" (stuff he does as a congresscritter) and some of it may be "political" (stuff he does by way of campaigning to remain a congresscritter).

Another "ballpark" method at play here, along the lines of "per diem" allowances, may be a practice I've heard of, but can't attest to the pervasiveness of:

Someone is taking a trip, and there are different kinds of expenses to be reimbursed by one or more parties. Instead of having the person keep (and the reimbursing entity keep track of) receipts for hotel, cab fare, meals, Starbucks, whatever, the reimbursing entity just uses the cost of the plane ticket as the basis for a flat reimbursement, and it's your job to either keep those additional expenses to that amount, or pay the difference out of your pocket.

If the plane ticket costs $350, you get reimbursed $350 for all that other stuff as well. If you stay at Motel 6 and eat at McDonald's, you pocket some extra cash. If you book a room at the Ritz-Carlton and take your kid's Little League team out to dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House, it's on you.

I could see Paul letting the Treasury reimburse his flight costs, and then handing the same amount over to his campaign as a basis for his expense reimbursements.

I can think of other possibilities, too, but the one possibility that doesn't strike me as plausible is run-of-the-mill corruption. If Paul just wanted more money, he could easily find perfectly "legitimate" ways to milk his congressional position or his campaign committees, PACs, etc. for it. I just can't see him running some kind of complicated "double books" operation to embezzle a few hundred dollars here and there.

Addendum: I'm not big on "good government reform" type stuff, but here's one I could get behind: The US Treasury will reimburse a congresscritter for one plane ticket from back home to Washington at the beginning of each Congress, and one plane ticket from Washington to back home at the end of each Congress. If he wants to go home during that two-year period, he does so at his own expense.
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