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When the Trump White House wanted to transfer USDA jobs from Washington to Kansas City in 2019, Rep. Sam Graves thought it was a good idea.
“This decision will help further the future of farming and our Midwest economy, all while helping to drain the swamp,” he wrote.
The Republican from the 6th District in Missouri often compares the federal government to a swamp. “There’s nothing ‘for the people’ in #HR1, it’s all #ForTheSwamp,’ he tweeted in 2019.
“It’s just a scheme by liberals to line their campaign coffers with your tax dollars,” he said, “cooked up behind closed doors by lobbyists and political consultants.” #DrainTheSwamp, the tweet said.
So let’s take a stroll through the fetid wetlands of Congress, shall we? Let’s see who we find there.
On March 31 this year, federal campaign records show, Graves for Congress — Sam’s campaign committee — paid $21,879.85 to the Four Seasons Hotel in Teton Village, Wyoming. That’s near Jackson Hole, a popular ski resort.
The Four Seasons is a pretty swanky place. Rooms there can cost thousands of dollars a night.
Why would a congressman from Missouri spend more than $20,000 at a luxury ski resort? To raise money, of course: On Jan. 21, the day after Joe Biden was sworn in as president, Graves hosted a three-day weekend in Jackson Hole, inviting lobbyists and interested parties to join him for some politics and winter fun.
“Save the Date!” the invitation said. “Suggested contribution: $2,500 PAC or $1,500 individual.”
In case recipients had forgotten, the invite conveniently referred to Graves as “Ranking Member” — that is, the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees “aviation, maritime and waterborne transportation, highways, bridges, mass transit, and railroads.”
We don’t know precisely who attended. We do have a record of who wrote checks to Graves for Congress between Jan. 21 and Jan. 24: two dozen individuals connected with construction and transportation engineering firms.
No one from Missouri donated directly to Graves for Congress on those dates, the records show.
There were no political action committee contributions recorded that weekend. But PACs later came through for Graves, the records show, including PACs for pilots, airlines and ironworkers, all keenly interested in transportation policy.
He raised $106,286 in the first quarter of 2021, with $44,500 coming from PACs.
None of this is illegal. In fact, Graves for Congress has spent more than $100,000 over the past three election cycles hosting similar events in Jackson Hole. It’s a regular thing, we were told by a person close to the congressman.
But ask yourself this: Why would the most important Republican on the committee that helps set transportation policy invite lobbyists to a luxury ski resort in Wyoming, and ask them for contributions? To talk about the Chiefs? Probably not.
A weekend on the slopes, with some good food and wine, plus chatter with a powerful lawmaker and a few big checks seems like just about the swampiest thing you can imagine. It’s the kind of access no regular folks ever get.
Oh, did we mention this? The fundraiser took place in the middle of a pandemic, and just two weeks after insurrectionists invaded the U.S. Capitol. And after Graves voted to decertify presidential election returns from Pennsylvania and Arizona.
We’re guessing masks were used, but not the hygienic kind. The kind you wear when you take a lift to the top of the mountain, then ski down it again, to where the little people are.