Cheri Bustos’s campaign increased spending by $1 million in 2018

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US House Office of Photography

The most recent official photograph of Cheri Bustos.

Running for reelection in Illinois’ 17th Congressional district, Cheri Bustos spent almost $3.2 million in the 2017-2018 election cycle.

The expenditures ranged from dinners at Chicago and Washington DC’s most expensive restaurants, such as the 116 Club, to office supplies at Walmart. 

In comparison, Bustos spent $2.2 million in the 2015- 2016 election cycle.

Bustos’s top expenditures include payments towards communications, advertising and financial specialists, donations to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and paychecks for staffers.

In this past cycle, Bustos paid $737,796 to GMMB, a political consultancy and advertising company located in Washington, D.C., that prides itself in working on progressive campaigns that spark change, according to their website. 

Bustos also donated $602,678 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, making it her second-highest expenditure. 

“In 2018, her leadership PAC ranked 27th among members of Congress in contributions to congressional campaigns,” said Andrew Mayersohn, a committee researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics. “She also donated a substantial amount of money directly from her campaign committee, ranking 12th among members of Congress in that category. She even occasionally donates out of her own pocket, which is not something all members do.”

Bustos paid Frost Group, a DC-based fundraising firm, $185,985 for their services. They create financial plans for each client depending on their needs, whether it be fundraising or social media assistance, or event planning, according to their website. 

The Bustos campaign also paid Mothership Strategies, a digital advertising and fundraising firm, $159,480, which makes up a large portion of the campaign’s budget.

In 2018, Bill Fawell attempted to take Bustos’s seat in the House. Bustos far outspent Fawell, who spent only $30,126 on his campaign. Fawell’s largest expenditure was $6,969 on mailing with Strategy Linc, a DC-based organization management company. 

Bustos beat her opponent, Bill Fawell, winning 62% of the vote. 

“Bustos’s spending in her first campaign was pretty typical for someone in her position. In the 2012 cycle, there were 22 candidates who beat an incumbent House member; of those, Bustos’s ranked 11th in the amount spent. So right in the middle,” Mayersohn said.

Bustos spent about $2.3 million in 2012, a significant sum in comparison to others running for the first time. Her expenses include payment to 116 Club and Nationals tickets. 116 Club is an exclusive Washington members club that serves lobbyists and politicians, among others. The average Washington Nationals ticket was $27 for the 2019 regular season. The Bustos campaign paid $2136 to the baseball team, buying 79 seats at a baseball game if the seats were averagely priced. 

Her campaign also spent $1265 at the Villagio Inn and Spa in Napa Valley, California. The campaign spent over $2000 on Uber rides and $9783 at Petterino’s in Chicago. The campaign spent $8855 at Cava Mezze, a Mediterranean restaurant popular in Washington DC with a Capitol Hill location. In addition, the campaign also spent $4632 at Maggiano’s in Chicago, which is not an area within Bustos’s district. 

Within her district, the campaign spent $1128 at Bass Street Chop House in Moline. 

The campaign did not respond to requests for comment on these expenses or other information in this story. 

Campaign finance law, regulated by the Federal Election Committee, requires that all expenditures be recorded. These finances are made available in reports from the campaigns themselves. Constituents can find these reports on the FEC website.

According to campaign finance law, candidates cannot use any campaign money on expenses considered ‘personal use’. The FEC uses the “irrespective test” to determine if the expense if personal, therefore illegal, or necessary for the campaign. 

“Personal use is any use of funds in a campaign account of a candidate (or former candidate) to fulfill a commitment, obligation or expense of any person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or responsibilities as a federal officeholder,” according to the FEC.

This means spending $1308 at Drybar, a salon chain that only provides blowouts, as a “Fundraiser Site Rental” is legal in the eyes of the FEC.

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