Ret. Navy rear admiral, congressman’s campaign paid for dues at a private social club

U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) reacts after asking Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, if he would resign during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Ending the U.S. Military Mission in Afghanistan in the Rayburn House Office Building at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 29, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Rod Lamkey/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

Chris Marquette

CQ-Roll Call

WASHINGTON — Freshman Rep. Ronny Jackson tapped his campaign account for more than $2,300 in costs associated with membership at a private social club in Texas, campaign finance records show.

Jackson, a Texas Republican, spent campaign donor money at the posh Amarillo Club on what were described in some disclosures to the Federal Election Commission as membership fees or dues.

It is illegal to spend campaign funds for personal purposes. The Federal Election Campaign Act prohibits spending on “country club memberships” along with “dues and fees for health clubs or recreational facilities.” The law presumes such prohibited expenses are “primarily personal in nature and therefore not normally legitimate campaign expenses,” according to a 2021 report by the Congressional Research Service.

“These costs are strictly associated with campaign and fundraising events,” Casey Nelson, a spokesperson for Jackson, said in a statement.

The FEC defines prohibited personal use to include: “Dues, fees or gratuities at a country club, health club, recreational facility or other nonpolitical organization, unless they are part of the costs of a specific fundraising event that takes place on the organization’s premises.”

The club, in the city of Amarillo in Jackson’s district, was established as a “Business Men Club,” and its website cites a news article from 1950 that said “a man would have to travel a long way to find a more plush, efficiently run city club than the Amarillo Club.” The website said that sentiment still holds true today.

For over 70 years, the Amarillo Club has served as a destination for “romantic evenings, life event celebrations, business meetings, civic organizations and much more,” the website states. The 31st floor main dining room has a dress code of “business dressy” that bans hoodies, sandals and jeans, but “nice jeans” are allowed in “Club 30” a floor below.

When charges solely listed as being for food and drink are included, the congressman’s main campaign campaign committee, Texans for Ronny Jackson, reported spending more than over $6,400 at the Amarillo Club since 2020.

FEC reports show the committee paid the club almost $650 in October 2020 and $175.37 in November 2020 for “membership fees.” Additional charges of an identical $175.37, alternately described as “dues,” “membership food/beverage” or “registration fees,” were charged in April, May, August, September, October November and December 2021. An additional $282 was charged in July 2021 and listed as “membership food/beverage.”

The House Ethics Committee on April 7 said it was investigating Jackson after the Office of Congressional Ethics sent a report for the panel to review. The ethics committee did not disclose the subject of the investigation but said it would make an announcement on its course of action by May 23. In April, a spokesperson for Jackson told The Hill that the matter concerned his campaign finance report.

Tom Rust, staff director and spokesperson for the Ethics Committee, declined comment. William Beaman, a spokesperson for the OCE, also declined comment.

“As a general matter, the law is fairly clear that campaign funds can’t be used for membership dues for personal clubs,” said Daniel Weiner, director of the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program and a former FEC staffer.

Members can hold campaign events at social clubs, but “to actually pay to be a member, typically, is not allowed,” Weiner said.

Jackson, a retired Navy rear admiral, previously worked as White House physician. He withdrew his name from consideration after then-President Donald Trump nominated him to be Veterans Affairs secretary in 2018 after reports of alcohol abuse and other allegations. Last year, a report by the Pentagon inspector general said Jackson drank and took sleeping pills while working as the White House doctor and harassed staff, findings that Jackson disputed, according to a New York Times report.

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