Watchdog: Pompeo spent $65,000 on taxpayer-funded 'Madison Dinners'

Former Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoBlinken formally announces new State Department cyber bureau Hillicon Valley — TikTok, Snapchat seek to distance themselves from Facebook State: US 'strongly opposes' Israeli settlement expansion MORE spent an estimated $65,000 on lavish, taxpayer-funded dinners at the State Department, according to documents released Wednesday by a government watchdog group.

The price tag is an increase from the initial estimate of $40,000 that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the watchdog group, first disclosed in December after obtaining documents from a Freedom of Information Act request.

The so-called Madison Dinners held by Pompeo and his wife were defended by the Trump administration as an opportunity to discuss the mission of the State Department and U.S. foreign policy with an array of thought leaders from government, academia, business and the media.

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Yet the guest lists, first reported by NBC News last year, featured influential conservative media personalities and top GOP donors, raising questions of Pompeo’s political ambitions beyond the State Department.

Pompeo is considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate. He has launched his own political action committee, and made headline appearances at key election rallies and fundraisers since the end of the Trump administration.

During Pompeo's time as America's top diplomat, at least two congressional committees probed his conduct at the State Department over criticisms of politicization.

CREW said the new documents reveal efforts by Pompeo’s State Department to obscure costs related to the dinners to avoid scrutiny from Capitol Hill.

The watchdog group said State Department staff made efforts to avoid using the term “Madison Dinners” when listing expenses and inventory “to not get questions” from Congress. 

CREW tallied the total expense for an estimated two dozen dinners to the amount of $64,911 by analyzing more than 500 pages of expense reports, invoices, receipts and checks.

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For example, the watchdog group said that an original tally of $10,433 for custom engraved pens actually cost $12,717 — reflected in a September 2018 invoice from the pen manufacturer.

The new documents show staff requesting vendors to reissue invoices citing costs for “Secretary of State U.S. Foreign Policy Discussion Dinner Series” instead of Madison Dinners, and other invoices transmitted to Congress listing expenses related to the dinners as “SECSTATE Gift Inventory.” 

The group further said that staff avoided using the Madison Dinners on other expense lists by labeling purchases and services, such as for liquor and waitstaff, for “U.S. Foreign Policy Discussion Dinner series hosted by SECSTATE.”

CREW said the documents raise questions of how much the Madison Dinners depleted the State Department’s “K Fund,” appropriated by Congress to be used for unforeseen emergencies in the diplomatic and consular service.

For example, money in the fund was used as part of the State Department's efforts to repatriate more than 100,000 Americans following worldwide border closures at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

CREW called for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to audit the K Fund during Pompeo’s tenure at the agency, between April 2018 and January 2021, particularly since an OIG report released in April that found Pompeo and his wife violated State Department ethics and misused resources by having staff run personal errands for them.