Josh Hawley dipped into campaign funds to help bankroll family trip to Universal Studios

On a lobbyist retreat to Orlando, the Missouri Republican billed nearly $200 in junk food to his Senate campaign

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published February 18, 2021 3:38PM (EST)

Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, is facing new scrutiny for billing $197 in food expenses for his family during a "lobbyist retreat" in Orlando after his fellow Republican senator and purveyor of the election fraud myths that lead to the deadly Jan 6. attack on the U.S. Capitol Ted Cruz received widespread condemnation after fleeing Texas for Cancun during a winter storm crisis in his state. 

Federal Election Commission filings show that Hawley's campaign footed the bill in seven separate charges paid to Voodoo Doughnut, Seuss Popcorn, Lard Lad, Lagoon Popcorn, Hopping Pot, Bumblebee Taco, and Margaritaville during a personal vacation last March. The New York Post reports that the event was organized in conjunction with fellow Missouri Senator Roy Blunt's Rely on Your Belief PAC, which spent $4,680.65 on admission to the theme park. 

Because politicians are strictly prohibited from using campaign money for personal expenditures, Hawley's splurge sounded alarms amongst campaign finance experts. "It appears to not be a legal use of campaign funds," said Ann Ravel, the former F.E.C. chairwoman under Obama. Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, echoed her, arguing that Hawley's charges "warrant some scrutiny."

Hawley's office defended the expenses and told the Post, "This was a trip for the respective Leadership PACs of Senators Hawley and Blunt. The event is designed specifically for families to attend. Guests are encouraged to bring their children and Sen. Blunt has been hosting it for a number of years." His office maintained that "the expenses were reimbursed on Jan. 30," ten months after they were made. 

Campaign finance violations, of course, have the potential to swiftly derail a politician's career. Last year, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-CA, resigned over a misuse of campaign money, $200,000 of which the Congressman spent with his wife on medical procedures, travel, donations, clothing, and more. In 2018, Hunter and his wife were convicted of corruption and misuse of campaign funds. However, in 2020, Donald Trump pardoned the couple before leaving office. 

Hawley's impropriety comes after the Senator was cast into the spotlight after being indicted in a trial by public opinion for having incited the insurrection at the Capitol. Hawley was one of more than a dozen Senators who vowed to oppose the results of the 2020 election on President Trump's behalf. The Senator went on to grossly exaggerate claims of "Antifa scumbags" protesting outside his Virginia home following the Capitol riot, who he claimed "vandalized" and "pounded on the door," despite local police claiming otherwise. 

The Kansas City Star, the largest newspaper in Hawley's home state, rebuked the senator as having "blood on his hands." The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, another Missouri newspaper, panned him as "a phony," quoting, "This is a man who will say and do anything to advance his personal political agenda."

In early January, Loews Hotels, where the senator stayed on his trip to Orlando in March of last year, canceled a fundraising event for him, posting on Twitter, "We are horrified and opposed to the events at the Capitol and all who supported and incited the actions."

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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$200 Campaign Funds Food Josh Hawley Misuse Orlando "retreat" Universal Studios