Government & Politics

McCaskill paid $15,000 for senators to attend husband’s birthday bash in Cancun

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., paid for Sens. Chuck Schumer and Jon Tester to join her on a trip to Cancun to celebrate her husband’s 70th birthday.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., paid for Sens. Chuck Schumer and Jon Tester to join her on a trip to Cancun to celebrate her husband’s 70th birthday. AP

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill shelled out $15,000 to pay for fellow Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Jon Tester and their wives to join her in Cancun for her husband’s 70th birthday party.

The cost covered airfare, hotel expenses and meals for the senators, whom McCaskill has described as her “besties” on Twitter.

McCaskill is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, with a net worth of more than $19 million. That made her the 21st richest lawmaker on Capitol Hill in 2015, the last time the newspaper Roll Call published such rankings.

Financial disclosure records show much of that wealth comes from investments and assets belonging to her husband, Joseph Shepard, a major Democratic donor and developer from St. Louis whose assets and investments include federally subsidized affordable housing projects.

McCaskill paid $8,235 for Schumer and his wife, Iris Weinshall, and $7,410 for Tester and his wife, Sharla Tester, to attend a four-day celebration in the Mexican resort town in February 2016.

A spokesman for McCaskill declined to give details about the exact location of the festivities, how many people attended or whether McCaskill paid the expenses of other attendees.

“This was a McCaskill family birthday celebration with family and personal friends, including colleagues, and the trip was publicly disclosed per Senate guidelines,” said the spokesman, John LaBombard.

Schumer, a Democrat from New York, was heir-apparent to Minority Leader Harry Reid at the time of the beach getaway, while Tester, who is from Montana, was chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democrats’ campaign fundraising arm in the Senate.

The three senators’ friendship dates back to when Schumer recruited McCaskill and Tester to run for Senate in Schumer’s role as chairman of the DSCC, and he helped funnel cash to their successful campaigns in 2006.

McCaskill’s husband has donated $160,000 to the DSCC since 2012, including $66,800 when Tester was chairman of the DSCC from 2015 to 2016, according to campaign finance records.

McCaskill is one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in 2018. President Donald Trump swept to victory by 19 percentage points in Missouri, a state that also elected a Republican governor, Eric Greitens, and a GOP-led legislature.

Even though no opponent has come forward yet to challenge the two-term senator, Republican Party operatives in Missouri and Washington have wasted no time in launching a relentless fusillade of criticism against McCaskill in anticipation of a fierce battle over her seat next year.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee jumped on news this week of the Cancun trip — and the connection to McCaskill’s businessman husband — to attack her.

“It doesn’t get swampier than Claire McCaskill and her husband, Democrat megadonor Joseph Shepard, paying for a lavish Cancun vacation for two sitting U.S. Senators,” said NRSC Spokesman Michael McAdams.

What’s “really swampy” are Republicans’ personal attacks on McCaskill’s family, her spokesman shot back.

“Missourians are sick of that kind of politics, and they can see that Claire fights for them every day and achieves concrete results for Missouri families,” LaBombard said.

Schumer declined to comment and Tester did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Government ethics watchdogs say McCaskill treating her fellow senators to a beach trip for her husband’s milestone birthday is unusual, but there does not appear to be any business-related purpose behind it.

“I’ll admit it’s odd,” said Craig Holman, who lobbies on campaign finance for Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group and think tank.

Holman said he couldn’t even recall another instance in which one senator treated other senators to an all-expenses paid vacation. Still, he doesn’t see any red flags of undue influence peddling or some other suspicious activity.

“If a lobbyist were paying for this for lawmakers or any other special interest group were paying for this I would be furious,” Holman said. “But this does appear to be just a very wealthy senator who likes to party with her friends.”

Lindsay Wise: 202-383-6007, @lindsaywise