Politicians' food tab takes $14.5M bite from donations

House members and candidates have spent at least $14.5 million of their donors' campaign contributions on food since Jan. 1, 2011, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

The expenses range from thousands of dollars to underwrite big fundraising lunches in their home districts to meal tabs at country clubs, glitzy New York hotels and Washington steakhouses. Politicians and their aides also spent donors' money at far less glamorous destinations, such as Dunkin' Donuts and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

This year, ex-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's restaurant bills garnered attention when campaign records showed that the Republican's campaign apparatus had spent more on steakhouses than his opponent, David Brat, had spent on his entire campaign to successfully trounce Cantor in Virginia's primary.

There's no doubt that political campaigns run on food – to raise money, feed campaign volunteers and reward supporters and donors. Lawmakers are barred from using campaign money for personal expenses, but they have wide discretion on exactly how they spend the money they collect for their campaigns.

In some cases, the line between personal and professional appears blurred.

One of the bigger spenders: the campaign of late Rep. C. W. Bill Young, R-Fla., who died last October after 43 years in Congress.

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