WASHINGTON - Most Americans start their day with at least one cup of coffee, maybe paying $2 to $5, but many might be surprised to know they also treat their members of Congress to some joe and a bagel or two, as well.
The Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group advocating for government transparency, crunched the numbers for ABC News and found that the House of Representatives spent nearly $2 million on coffee and food in 2012 for events in and around the Capitol.
“Congress is spending an awful lot of money to entertain their members,” said Bill Allison, the foundation’s editorial director. “[It's] coffee and doughnuts and then some very nice catering places in Washington, D.C., as well.”
The money is part of lawmakers’ representational allowances, which can be used to pay for everything from sending mail to constituents to entertaining visitors. The foundation did not know who the visitors were.
Although lawmakers were paring back, Allison said, they hadn’t changed certain rules when it came to food and drink.
“Catering companies can get as much business from the House as they have in the past,” he said.
The Sunlight Foundation found that expensive catering was truly a bipartisan effort, with leaders hosting their own members. Republican House Speaker John Boehner spent $64,000. Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spent $61,000. and No. 2 Democrat Steny Hoyer spent $52,000.
The biggest spender in the House was No. 3 Republican Kevin McCarthy of California. On his Facebook page, pictures of meetings include fruit, bagels, croissants and coffee.
McCarthy’s 2012 grand total – $95,000, with an additional $4,000 being spent on bottled water – was enough to pay the salaries of two mid-level staffers on Capitol Hill.
“That’s a couple of jobs for the average American,” Allison said.
McCarthy declined an ABC News request for an interview.
When ABC News approached him as he walked down a hallway in the Capitol to ask about the nearly $100,000 spent to cater meetings and dinner, he responded: “You noticed. We cut it out.”
Actually, what ABC News noticed were the leftovers from a meeting McCarthy had just attended. A staffer even offered a bagel.
While McCarthy said he was making cuts, his office did not provide any numbers.
Allison said Americans should ask their leaders to buy their own coffee and pastries.
“We are in an age of austerity and sequestration and budget cuts,” Allison said. “It seems like if you are looking for places to cut, the entertainment budget would be the first one you would go to.”