After less than two years in Congress, Rep. Jeff Van Drew developed a penchant for fine dining at some of Washington’s swankiest steakhouses, even on days when he had missed House committee meetings.
Fortunately for the retired dentist from a working class South Jersey district, he didn’t have to pick up the tab himself.
During his first term in Congress, Van Drew used his re-election campaign account to pick up nearly $30,000 worth of meals and beverages, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
More than 77% of that was spent at two upscale steakhouses where the freshman Democrat-turned-Republican has seemingly become a regular: Prime Rib, where waiters wear tuxedos and walk on a legendary leopard skin carpet; and at the Steakhouse Del Frisco, where a bone-in Strip Steak goes for $68.
That’s double the price of a Strip Steak at O’Donnell’s Pour House in Sea Isle City.
The timing of one Van Drew dinner could prove problematic in a close race for re-election against Democrat Amy Kennedy.
Records show that Van Drew missed a March 4 Homeland Security Committee hearing on a proposed response to combat the coronavirus pandemic, but then spent $533 at Del Frisco’s the same night.
Ten weeks later, Van Drew skipped an Education and Labor Committee hearing on the effects of COVID-19 on public education, records show The same day, June 1, he charged a $73 meal to his campaign.
The New Jersey Globe reviewed Van Drew’s attendance records at 2020 committee meetings and found that he missed 8 of 13 Homeland Security meetings, including five that concentrated on the pandemic.
Since New Jersey has been under a State of Emergency because of the pandemic, leading to a long-term shutdown of in-person dining, records show that Van Drew has spent over $11,000 eating in Washington restaurants.
House Ethics rules permit the use of campaign funds for meals in Washington only when it is related to campaign activities.
Last month, POLITCO reported that Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) spent more than $70,000 on meals since his election to Congress in 2016.
“It’s concerning when an elected official consistently spends campaign money on fancy meals because it means that the official’s big campaign donors are essentially subsidizing his lifestyle and that gives wealthy donors far too much influence at the expense of the official’s actual constituents,” Adav Noti, a former FEC attorney who now works at the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, told POLITICO.
It’s not immediately clear if Van Drew’s restaurant bills were campaign expenses.
Van Drew’s campaign did not respond to emails from the NJ Globe at 3:02 PM on Friday and at 8:18 PM on Saturday.