Report: Sewell improperly spent campaign cash on private social club dues
U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) on Wednesday was featured in a report about members of Congress using campaign funds at high-end private social clubs.
Sewell, the only Democrat in Alabama’s U.S. House delegation, is currently the chief deputy majority whip.
Campaigns are allowed to spend their monies on fundraisers and other campaign-related meals, which Sewell has done, according to the new report by Roll Call.
Public FEC filings show that Sewell has spent almost $9,000 total at City Club Birmingham since 2017.
However, the same filings also detail that a significant portion of those campaign expenditures were on membership fees to the same club, which Roll Call reported are types of “expenditures the Federal Election Commission automatically deems as prohibited personal use.”
Roll Call reported that “Sewell’s campaign spent more than $2,800 on dues to City Club Birmingham and $222 in similar fees to The City Club of Washington, both of which are owned by ClubCorp USA Inc.”
City Club Birmingham, located on the 31st and 32nd floors of Regions Harbert Plaza in the heart of downtown, describes itself as “the premier business and social center for the city’s professional elite. The club expertly blends luxurious style, breathtaking views, first-class amenities and a warm community for an exceptional private club setting.”
Members also enjoy the benefits of ClubCorp‘s other properties across the world. The company’s website states that it “owns or operates a portfolio of more than 200 golf and country clubs, city and stadium clubs in 27 states, the District of Columbia and two foreign countries.”
In Alabama, ClubCorp also owns Montgomery’s Capital City Club.
Roll Call noted that representatives of Sewell did not respond to requests for comment.
Sewell’s office did not return Yellowhammer News’ request for comment on the Roll Call report by the time of this article’s publication.
The report came as Sewell’s name has been mentioned as a potential “dark horse” candidate to be named as the 2020 Democratic vice presidential nominee.
The FEC’s website outlines, “Using campaign funds for personal use is prohibited.”
Non-political club dues are listed by the FEC under several “expenses that are automatically considered to be personal use.”
“Campaign funds may not be used to pay for dues to country clubs, health clubs, recreational facilities or other nonpolitical organizations unless the payments are made in connection with a specific fundraising event that takes place on the organization’s premises. Campaign funds may be used for membership dues in an organization that may have political interests,” the FEC explains.
UPDATE 9:35 p.m.
A spokesperson for Sewell’s campaign sent a statement to Yellowhammer News defending the expenditures.
“Rep. Sewell’s campaign payments were fully lawful,” the statement began.
“FEC rules allow candidates to use campaign funds to pay membership dues in community or civic organizations,” the statement continued. “The FEC has approved dues payments to organizations like the City Club of Birmingham under this allowance. Moreover, the campaign worked in good faith to comply with the law. The club was used solely for political and officially connected events, and not for personal purposes. An outside ethics expert and a professional compliance firm were consulted before the payments were made. Finally, the payment to the City Club of Washington was simply for the costs of attending an officially-connected event. Rep. Sewell remains completely committed to following the spirit and the letter of the rules governing her campaign.”
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn