The LA Times reports that California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (Dem.) has been living the high life on European trips, with a few pleasant US boondoggles thrown in too:
The spending, listed in mandatory filings with the state, includes $47,412 on United, Lufthansa and Air France airlines this year; $8,745 at the exclusive Hotel Arts in Barcelona, Spain; $5,149 for a “meeting” at Cave L’Avant Garde, a wine seller in the Bordeaux region of France; a total of $2,562 for two “office expenses” at Vuitton, two years apart; and $1,795 for a “meeting” at Le Grand Colbert, a venerable Parisian restaurant.
Nuñez also spent $2,934 at Colosseum Travel in Rome, and paid $505 to the European airline Spanair for what appears to be a trip to Palma de Mallorca, an island city frequented by Spanish royalty.
Other expenses are closer to home: a $1,715 meeting at Asia de Cuba restaurant in West Hollywood; a $317 purchase at upscale Pavilion Salon Shoes in Sacramento; a $2,428 meeting at 58 Degrees and Holding, a Sacramento wine bar and bistro; and $800 spent at Dollar Rent a Car in Kihei, Hawaii.
We know about these expenditures because Nuñez used campaign funds to pay for them, and was therefore required to report them. There’s another requirement, though, that he’s avoiding. If he’s going to use campaign funds, the monies spent have to be reasonably or even directly related to California government business:
California law requires all campaign fund expenditures to be at least “reasonably” related to a political, legislative or governmental purpose. Expenditures that confer a substantial personal benefit must be “directly” related to such purposes.
There’s no doubt that some of Nuñez’s trips have been at least distantly California related, such as “studying high-speed rail and preschool programs in France, studying renewable energy in Germany and Denmark, and visiting South America with other lawmakers and lobbyists to study global warming solutions.” Others, though, “including the 2006 Barcelona visit and a $3,199 stay at Hotel Parco in Rome this year,” have no connection to California business at all. And even if you’re going to France on business, I’m not clear how “business” justifies spending $2,562 at Vuitton or having a $5,149 meeting at a wine sellers.
Nuñez gave a perfect answer when asked about the trips, fully of airy persiflage and devoid of actual meaning:
Asked in an interview about his foreign travel in general, Nuñez said: “For me, it’s a question of: Is my perspective on issues broad enough? Do I have enough context when I make decisions? This is a big state to run. You’ve got to know what you’re doing.
“These trips,” he said, “at least the ones I’ve taken — I feel very confident and comfortable that they’re not only justified but necessary for the decisions I need to make on a daily basis.”
Does you know what that means? I don’t, beyond an seeing an incredibly self-serving attitude of “If I want it, I’ll make sure others pay to get it for me.” Nor is his staff doing any better when it comes to communicating clearly (although they’re doing a great job of obfuscation):
Given a list of 99 entries culled from his campaign finance filings, however, Nuñez’s staff refused to show how the expenditures were related to California government or politics. Spokeswoman Beth Willon would say only that the expenditures were “properly disclosed and described as required by law.”
The most charming part of the article is Nuñez’s claim that he’s just a regular guy:
In the interview, Nuñez said he wouldn’t need to use his $5.3-million “Friends of Fabian Nuñez” campaign account to offset travel costs if he were independently wealthy. The speaker’s job pays $130,062 a year plus a tax-free $170 for expenses each day the Assembly is in session.
“There’s not too big a difference,” he said, “between how I live and how most middle-class people live.”
Isn’t that great? Except for the fact that he’s wildly spending other people’s money at luxury sites all over the Western world, he’s just like you or me. Wow! What a guy.
You should read the whole article, which describes where the campaign money comes from, the other funding he’s gotten for a bunch of other trips, his union organization background, and the fact that he’s pretty unique in his high flying ways, as compared to his counterpart in the California Senate. Kudos go to the LA Times for sniffing around this subject.