US Senator Ron Johnson has been using taxpayer dollars to cover the cost of flights between a family vacation home in Florida and Washington, D.C., including nine such trips last year, federal records show.
Democrats say the Republican millionaire’s expense is a waste of public money because they say the trips have nothing to do with his official job representing Wisconsin at the US Capitol.
But Johnson officials say these are legitimate expenses that have all been approved by the Senate Rules Committee.
“The senator has always gone above and beyond to abide by Senate rules,” said Alexa Henning, a spokeswoman for Johnson. He was never reimbursed for his travel to visit his family in Florida but was reimbursed for his return on an official mission to Washington, D.C.
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Last month, Johnson called for an scrutiny of his government spending, telling Fox News’ Brian Kilmedy it was for “full disclosure.” He added, “The public has the right to know. I am for complete transparency. I am for the truth.”
Federal records show Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, was compensated for 19 flights from Fort Myers, Florida, to Washington between 2013 and May 2021.
JFT Investments LLC purchased a 3,400-square-foot waterfront home in Fort Myers, near Sanibel Island, for $1.6 million in October 2013. JFT Investments is a subsidiary of the Johnson Family Fund, which the senator and his wife, Jane Johnson, established for their three children, confirmed Johnson office.
The LLC, a holding company for several properties, used to share the same title with Pacur, an Oshkosh plastics company formerly owned by Johnson. Ben Johnson, the senator’s son, is listed as the company’s registered agent, and Jane Johnson once signed a notice to fix the house.
Johnson’s adult children also own a private business jet that he used to fly between Wisconsin and Washington during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Johnson, who was first elected in 2010, had not made trips to or from Fort Myers before JFT Investments bought the Florida home in 2013.
By contrast, a senior Wisconsin senator went to Fort Myers at least nine times between January 1, 2021 and May 10, 2021. These flights between Florida and Washington cost taxpayers anywhere from $227 to $1,152.
Travel records show that Johnson attended a meeting, via conference call from Florida, with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and two Republican senators at the Trump International Hotel to discuss allegations of election fraud on January 4, 2021. Johnson also TV interview with host Chuck Todd From NBC’s Meet the Press from Fort Myers.
Johnson then paid taxpayers $565 to fly to Washington two days later to vote to ratify the results of the 2020 presidential election. Johnson was among those who voted for the ratification, after first indicating that he planned to join 10 other Republican senators in Objection to the certificate.
He returned to Florida on January 7, the day after the attack on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
It is impossible to determine the exact cost of Johnson’s flights from Florida because many of the refunds have been collected with expenses for other flights, including some flights within Wisconsin.
But Senate records show that the trips cost taxpayers no less than $5,418 and no more than $18,781.
Johnson is running for re-election for a third term in the Senate, a race that could help determine which party controls the body next year.
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Democratic spokesman Philip Schulman said the wealthy senator who held two terms should not ask taxpayers to pay for flights between Florida and Washington.
Johnson and his wife recently listed assets between $16.55 million and $78.3 million at the end of last year, roughly the same as the previous year. Johnson was not required to report his annual salary of $174,000 as a US Senator.
“Whether it helps pass legislation that enriches himself and his biggest donor or spends thousands of taxpayer dollars to travel to and from his family’s vacation home in Florida, Ron Johnson’s priority is his self-serving agenda, not Wisconsin,” said Shulman.
But Henning, a spokeswoman for Johnson, said reimbursement for the flights had been approved by the auditors and the Senate Rules Committee.
She referred to a Senate rule that she said allows senators to receive reimbursement for travel to the Capitol from somewhere other than their “centre of duty,” usually their official residence, as long as the cost is equal to or less than travel from their duty station.
“Any attempt to portray this travel as something other than strictly adhering to Senate rules is yet another coordinated political distortion by the media and the Democratic Party,” Henning said.
But the Democratic Party’s lawyer disputed this interpretation of the rules.
Jacqueline Lopez, partner at Elias Law Firm in Washington, said the tax money is for official business, not personal travel.
“The rules are clear,” Lopez said. “A Senator may not use taxpayer dollars to fund personal travel to or from a family vacation home. Under federal law and the Senate Code of Ethics, Senators may use official funds only for travel which is necessary for an official business transaction.”
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Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 313-6684 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.