The State Department spent more than $10,000 in taxpayer funds over two years for engraved pens handed out to guests at former Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoRepublican lawmakers raise security, privacy concerns over Huawei cloud services WashPost fact-checker gives Pompeo four 'Pinocchios' for 'zombie' claim about Obama Iran deal Poll: Biden, Trump statistically tied in favorability MORE's "Madison Dinners," during which the secretary and his wife routinely hosted GOP donors and conservative media figures, according to documents obtained by a watchdog group.
Receipts obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and published Thursday revealed that the State Department spent $4,387 in 2018 and $6,046 in 2020 for 400 engraved pens bearing a logo and engraved text reading "Madison Dinners" from Madden Branded Goods, a Florida-based company.
Officials at the State Department did not immediately return a request for comment on the prior administration's purchases, and the former secretary could not immediately be reached for comment.
CREW also released emails detailing discussions regarding the purchases that revealed a sense of urgency conveyed by State Department employees tasked with obtaining the pens. In response, the company revealed that the pens were manufactured and engraved in China before being shipped to Chicago, thereby increasing the time it would take to acquire them.
“When is the soonest you could get the sample to us by?” one State Department employee wrote to Madden Branded Goods in an email obtained by CREW. “Would it expedite things to send one of the pens we already have to have ‘Madison Dinners’ added to the barrel, as opposed to having a whole new pen made?”
“Completed decorated product(s) ship from China to [an] airport hub in Chicago," the company responded. "We are unable to ship from China facility directly to customer due to customs issues, etc.”
Pompeo, who is seen as having presidential ambitions, has faced criticism in the past from watchdog groups over the spending on his dinners at the State Department, with critics noting the unusually low percentage of attending guests involved in the diplomatic sector or other relevant fields.
“The dinners’ connection to the mission of the State Department is highly questionable, as only 14 percent of invitees reportedly have been diplomats or foreign officials,” CREW said in a statement in December. “The vast majority have been from the private sector with no connection to the State Department’s foreign policy mission, such as Republican donors and conservative media figures."
At the time, the State Department defended the dinners as opportunities for the secretary to gain insight from distinguished figures in various fields.
“Foreign policy-focused social gatherings like these are in the finest tradition of diplomatic and American hospitality and grace, and the secretary has benefited greatly from these gatherings as he has gained insight listening to his guests from all across the political spectrum and all around the world,” the agency said last year.