With a struggling economy and government debt piling up, President Obama promised to look at the budget line by line. Well, I’ve got a few lines he can examine. How about starting with the taxpayer-funded personal junkets taken by Obama administration officials (including the First Family)?
Recently, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit to obtain records detailing the costs of President Obama’s February 2013 “boys’ weekend” in Palm Beach, Florida, as well as the simultaneous vacations of Michelle Obama and Joseph Biden in Aspen, Colorado (our previous discoveries regarding the First Family’s vacations can be found here).
JW placed Attorney General Eric Holder’s personal travel under the microscope, releasing documents from the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealing that between March 27, 2009, and August 24, 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder accrued $4,263,704.01 in total travel expenses. This included $697,525.20 in taxpayer-funded personal travel expenses. We acquired these records in June in response to an August 2012 Freedom of Information Act request.
Altogether, Holder took 213 out-of-Washington trips during the 42 months for which we obtained records. His 31 personal trips during the time period included two trips to Martha’s Vineyard with a flight-only price tag of $95,184.50, as well as eight trips to Farmingdale, New York, at a flight cost of $118,553.71.
On September 9, 2010, Holder took a one-day personal jaunt to gambling mecca Atlantic City that cost the taxpayers $7,408 in flight expenses alone. Wasn’t it President Obama who once cautioned American taxpayers that when “times are tough,” the American people should “tighten their belts” instead of that “blowing a bunch of cash” on Vegas?
Holder’s first taxpayer-funded trip noted in the documents was to an April 2009 “US/Mexico Arms Trafficking Strategy Meeting” (government cost “unavailable”) concerning gun-running between the US and Mexico, an issue in which the attorney general subsequently said he had no involvement. Among other controversial Holder travel expenditures:
- In April, 2011, Holder charged taxpayers $15,452.50 for a speaking engagement at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in New York City.
- In June, 2012, Holder charged $38,108.18 in “business and personal” expenses to address LULAC, a liberal group that strongly supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, in Orlando and New Orleans.
- In July, 2012, Holder charged an additional $38,108.18, this time fully billed to the taxpayers, to speak before La Raza, another controversial pro-amnesty group, in Las Vegas.
- Also in July, 2012, Holder flew on a Department of Defense plane, at unknown cost, to speak before the NAACP convention in Houston.
The documents also include Holder’s personal expense form reports for room service and lodging.
Now, to be fair, by long-standing presidential executive fiat, Attorney General Holder is a “required use” official who must take government aircraft for all travel while in office due to “security and communications needs,” according to a February 2013 U.S. Government Accountability Office report. The requirement dates most recently from 2004.
However, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, “For personal trips, Holder is required to reimburse the government for the equivalent commercial coach fare, which is often much less than the total trip costs according to the GAO.”
Here’s the thing. Holder doesn’t fly commercial. He usually flies on a Gulfstream V, the same private luxury jet owned by former Apple chairman Steve Jobs and billionaire businessman Mark Cuban. So no wonder the numbers do not square in favor of the taxpayer.
Last Tuesday night, I appeared on Fox News Channel’s “O’Reilly Factor” program with guest host Laura Ingraham to discuss these luxury trips. In my interview with Ingraham, I noted the tone deafness of the Obama administration when it comes to these luxury vacations: “[Holder’s] personal trips cost $700,000 or so. He should be more sensitive to the costs his personal junkets are costing the American people…Our debt is out of control and they should cut these costs back.” You can watch the segment here.
And then there is also the question of all of those alleged “official trips.” Take a look at the list above, and note the timing of Holder’s speeches and the groups involved. Some of these 2012 trips were for speeches to leftist groups essential to the president’s reelection campaign. And, as I said on Fox News, if someone wants to call these specific trips “official business,” then I have a bridge to sell them.
The Obama administration has so blurred the lines between official government business and Obama campaign business that it’s difficult to know where one leaves off and the other begins. This is not an excuse for wrongdoing. It’s just an observation on the DC shell game.
We should hope that these documents help Attorney General Holder understand the burden his unnecessary personal travel places on American taxpayers. The notion that federal officials such as Holder have access to a fleet of luxury jets for discounted personal travel for “security” reasons should strike most Americans as a scam that needs to be reformed.
And, in case you’re wondering, we criticize Republicans for similar travel abuse. See this 2008 McClatchy news story, entitled “Attorney general’s private trips have cost taxpayers.”
In the meantime, JW will continue to do what it can to bring the light of day the costs associated with these luxury vacations, hoping that public scrutiny might lead to some necessary changes.