US Sen. Ron Johnson has been using taxpayer dollars to cover the cost of flights between a Florida family vacation home and Washington, DC, including nine such trips last year, federal records show.
say the expenditures by the multimillionaire Republican are a waste of public money because they say the trips have nothing to do with his official job representing Democrats Wisconsin at the US Capitol.
But Johnson officials said these are legitimate expenses that were all approved by the Senate Rules Committee.
“The senator has always gone above and beyond to abide by Senate rules,” said Johnson spokesman Alexa Henning. “He has never been reimbursed for travel to visit family in Florida but is reimbursed for returning for official business to Washington, DC”
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Last month, Johnson invited scrutiny of his government spending, telling Brian Kilmeade of Fox News that he was for “total disclosure.” He added, “The public has a right to know. I am for total transparency. I am for the truth.”
Federal records show that Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, has been reimbursed for 19 flights from Fort Myers, Florida, to Washington between 2013 and May 2021.
JFT Investments LLC bought a 3,400-square-foot waterfront house in Fort Myers, near Sanibel Island, for $1.6 million in October 2013. JFT Investments is an affiliate of the Johnson family trust, which was set up by the senator and his wife, Jane Johnson, for their three children, Johnson’s office confirmed.
The limited liability corporation, a holding company for various properties, used to share the same address with Pacur, an Oshkosh plastics company formerly owned by Johnson. Ben Johnson, the senator’s son, had been listed as the company’s registered agent, and Jane Johnson once signed a notice for repairs to the house.
Johnson’s adult children also own a private business jet that he used to travel between Wisconsin and Washington during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Johnson, first in 2010, took no trips to or from Fort Myers before the Florida house was purchased by JFT Investments in 2013.
By contrast, Wisconsin’s senior senator went to Fort Myers at least nine times between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 10, 2021. Those flights between Florida and Washington cost taxpayers anywhere from $227 to $1,152.
Travel records show that Johnson attended a meeting, via teleconference from Florida, with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and a couple of Republican senators at Trump International Hotel to discuss allegations of election fraud on Jan. 4, 2021. Johnson also did a televised interview with host Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press” from Fort Myers.
Johnson then billed taxpayers $565 to fly to Washington two days later to vote on certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. Johnson was among those who voted in favor of certification, after first indicating that he planned to join with 10 other Republican senators in objecting to the certification.
He returned to Florida on Jan. 7, the day after the attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
It is impossible to determine the exact cost for Johnson’s jaunts from Florida because many of the reimbursements were lumped in with expenses from other trips, including some within Wisconsin.
But Senate records show the trips cost taxpayers at least $5,418 and no more than $18,781.
Johnson is running for reelection to a third term in the Senate, a race that could help determine which party is in control of the body next year.
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Philip Shulman, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, said the wealthy two-term senator should not be asking taxpayers to pay for flights between Florida and Washington.
Johnson and his wife recently listed assets worth between $16.55 million and $78.3 million at the end of last year, about the same as the previous year. Johnson wasn’t required to report his annual $174,000 salary as a US senator.
“Whether it’s helping pass legislation that is himself and his biggest donors or spending thousands in taxpayer dollars to fly to and from his family vacation home in Florida, Ron Johnson’s priority is his self-serving agenda, not Wisconsinites,” Shulman said.
But Henning, the Johnson spokesman, said the reimbursements for the flights were approved by auditors and the Senate Rules Committee.
She pointed to a Senate rule that she said allows senators to get reimbursed for traveling to the Capitol from somewhere other than their “duty station,” 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 completely abiding by Senate rules is another coordinated political smear by the media and the Democrat Party,” Henning said.
But a lawyer for the Democratic Party justified that interpretation of the rules.
Jacquelyn Lopez, a partner with the Elias law firm in Washington, said tax dollars are intended for official business, not personal trips.
“The rules are clear,” Lopez said. “A senator may not use taxpayer dollars to fund personal travel to or from a family vacation home. As a matter of federal law and Senate rules, senators may only use official funds for travel that is essential to the transaction of official business.”
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Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 313-6684 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.