On Feb. 22, 2021, the campaign of GOP Congresswoman Lauren Boebert amended its campaign finance filing for a mileage reimbursement. Our original story continues below.
Updated on Feb. 8 at 2:45 p.m.
Congresswoman Lauren Boebert’s campaign paid her $22,259 in mileage reimbursements, effectively claiming that Boebert had driven 38,712 miles during the course of her campaign in 2020.
It’s a figure that raised eyebrows when it was first reported by The Denver Post, with two groups requesting investigations of the freshman Republican representative’s apparently ambitious itinerary.
“$22,000 is unheard of in my review of monetary reimbursement,” said Kedric Payne, general counsel and senior director of ethics for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit that fights the influence of money in politics.
To check Boebert’s claim, CPR News analyzed the congresswoman’s public travel schedule and compared her spending to other candidates.
Here’s what we found.
CPR News documented 129 locations where Boebert’s campaign hosted a publicly advertised event or where her presence was documented on social media or by the news media.
The events ranged from Denver to Grand Junction, Pueblo and numerous other smaller cities.
If she drove roundtrip from her home in the Western Slope town of Silt to each of those destinations, Boebert would have accumulated about 30,000 miles, according to calculations performed with route-planning software.
The analysis assumed that Boebert returned home each night, but drove directly between events that were hosted on the same day. A similar review by The Denver Post tallied fewer miles in part because it only included Facebook events.
It's unclear whether the mileage billed includes one of the longer, and highest-profile, trips Boebert made during the campaign: to attend President Donald Trump’s 4th of July rally at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, shortly after she won the primary. If Boebert did bill that as a campaign expense, it would account for roughly 1,100 miles of the total.
Boebert’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment or proof of her mileage claim. In a statement to The Denver Post, the campaign said that the candidate “traveled to every nook and cranny of the district to speak with and hear from the people about their concerns.”
The district is among the largest in the U.S., with nearly 50,000 square miles covering roughly half of Colorado.
Other candidates’ travels
CPR News’ review found two candidates in other states who claimed more than $20,000 in mileage expenses during the 2020 election cycle.
In California, Republican candidate Tamika Hamilton claimed reimbursement equivalent to 43,734 miles in the second half of 2020. In New York, Democrat Tracy Mitrano claimed 39,180 miles across 2019 and 2020.
“Forty thousand miles, that would not surprise anybody, Republican or Democrat, in the New York 23rd Congressional district,” Mitrano said.
A typical campaigning day might include 90 minutes of driving to a destination and even more to get around the city, she said.
“I’ll regale you with names of towns you’ve never heard of before and probably never will again,” Mitrano said.
She tracked the mileage with an app and by sharing her itinerary with her treasurer, she said. Mitrano shared one of those internal forms with CPR, showing the date, itinerary, and miles driven for each trip.
Boebert’s predecessor, Republican Rep. Scott Tipton, reported far less mileage, totaling only about $10,000 for all campaign travel expenses over the last decade. However, he logged high mileage in his initial Congressional campaign in 2005, adding up to 17,576 miles over six months.
Some of Boebert’s fellow Republicans have stepped to her defense, including Rep. Ken Buck, chair of the state party. Scott McInnis, a former representative for the district, told CPR News that he “routinely booked 70,000 miles, plus or minus, each year.”
Nationwide, at least 20 Congressional campaigns appeared to reimburse their candidates $10,000 or more in mileage expenses, according to a preliminary analysis of nearly 3,000 campaigns conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics at the request of CPR News. That analysis tracked campaign payments for “mileage” to people with the candidate’s last name.
What happens next?
Two groups are raising questions about Boebert’s mileage. A liberal watchdog group, Accountable.US, has written to the Office of Congressional Ethics to request it look into what they call “exorbitant and questionable travel expenses.”
The Pueblo-based Rural Colorado United, a political action committee that opposes Boebert, also plans on sending letters this week asking the OCE and the Federal Election Commission to look into the mileage, as well as her actions around the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot.
“We’re trying to see if there was any correlation between [Boebert] and using those funds for the taxes that she owed [for her business],” said George Autobee, co-founder of the Rural Colorado United. The Denver Post reported last summer that the state had filed around $20,000 in liens against Boebert’s restaurant in Rifle. Boebert paid most of that off in October, according to the site Colorado Newsline.
A third group, the Campaign for Accountability, a campaign finance watchdog group, filed a complaint with the FEC late Monday.
“Rep. Boebert has not shown a mileage log to back up the claim that she needed this large amount of reimbursement for mileage. So we're basically asking her to show us her work,” said Michelle Kuppersmith, executive director for the Campaign for Accountability.
The group chose the FEC route because Kuppersmith said, it’s “not an ethical violation right now. It’s straight up an FEC violation. That’s how we lay it out in the complaint.”
Boebert filed her mileage claims on two dates: She claimed on March 31 that she had driven about 1,843 miles. About seven months later, just after the election in November, she claimed an additional 36,869 miles.
Payne, of the Campaign Legal Center, said that unusual expenses can trigger the Federal Election Commission to conduct an audit or review, but “it would be highly unlikely for them to do that simply because of a mileage situation. There would probably need to be more.”
Other enforcement agencies, like the Justice Department, also have jurisdiction over campaign finance questions. The example Payne used was former California Rep. Duncan Hunter, who was convicted of misusing more than $250,000 in campaign funds.
Payne said the issue is enforcement of financial disclosure rules to avoid “campaigns pushing the envelope or in any other way using the campaign as a slush fund because they are not in fear of the consequences from an enforcement action.”
For example, travel expenses usually must be filed within 30 to 60 days after the expense was incurred, Payne said; otherwise, they can be considered a campaign contribution. Because Boebert filed a lump reimbursement request for mileage after the election, miles driven earlier in the year may have been ineligible for reimbursement.
Michael Toner, an election law expert with Wiley Rein LLP and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission in 2006, said it’s understandable.
“There’s often a lag time, in terms of when these expenses are processed and submitted for reimbursement.”
For him, the real issue when looking at mileage is magnitude versus plausibility. “It's one thing, if you report, you know, $92 of travel expenses versus $99,000 of travel expenses,” he said. “How many miles are we talking about, within what period of time, and is it plausible for that to be done?”
If it’s plausible and bonafide campaign travel, a candidate can be reimbursed, Toner said. Filings are submitted under penalty of perjury, he added.
Payne said there is a simple solution: a candidate could voluntarily offer an explanation and proof for the expenses. “Otherwise that amount of smoke is what pushes people to look for the fire.”
Kevin J. Beaty contributed data analysis to this story.
This story has been updated to include that a third group has filed a complaint and with added information about Rep. Mitrano's mileage documentation.
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