How much taxpayer money can a governor and his staff spend on luxury hotel stays in just two years? For former Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R), the number is at least $22,000 — all spent on more than 40 rooms at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram obtained documents revealing the tab that the LePage administration has run up on travel accommodations. Per-night rates during the two-year time frame ranged from $362 to more than $1,100 for rooms at the Trump Hotel, all so LePage and his staff could “meet with President Trump or his inner circle, attend White House events or talk to members of Congress.”
In addition to the hotel and dining costs, the records reveal receipts for airfare, car rentals, other expenses, as well as accounting summaries provided by the state. In total, taxpayers funded approximately $170,000 in out-of-state travel by LePage and his staff during fiscal years 2017, 2018 and the beginning of 2019. Only $37,000 of that total was reimbursed by the organizations behind meetings and conferences that LePage and his staff attended.
In the dozens of trips LePage and his staff took to the Trump hotel, receipts piled up as they spent “hundreds of dollars on filet mignon or other expensive menu items at the restaurant in the Trump hotel.” The Press Herald adds:
Those expenditures are likely to draw additional scrutiny from attorneys who have cited LePage’s previously disclosed stays at the D.C. hotel in a federal lawsuit alleging the president is improperly profiting from the business.
The spending levels at the Trump hotel were so high that they were flagged by a worker in the state controller’s office, who sought guidance on state regulations for reimbursing such expenditures.
That worker wrote to Deputy Controller Shirley Browne in June 2017, noting that the room cost at the Trump hotel “is WAY more than the allowed amount” and that the visits were happening “pretty frequently” for someone who “is not attending a conference of any type but is meeting with the President, testifying, meeting with lawmakers and others, etc. so the normal exemptions (to state spending limits) do not apply.”
Since March 2017, the Press Herald had been trying to obtain travel records for LePage and his administration, only to be repeatedly rebuffed. It wasn’t until LePage left office and his successor, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, took his place, that the documents were provided to the newspaper.
As for that $22,000 hotel bill? The state was reimbursed for some of it: A whopping $124.