AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage, his staff and security detail spent more than $35,000 on luxury hotels, restaurants and travel to Washington, D.C., over a three-month period last spring as Maine’s Republican governor attended meetings or sought audiences with members of Congress and the Trump administration.

LePage’s appointment calendar also lists dozens of “private appointments” during his four trips to the nation’s capital this winter and spring. His office has refused to provide more details about those appointments.

Taxpayers footed most of the bill for the governor’s travels, although his office said some expenses were reimbursed by outside groups such as the Republican Governors Association. It was unclear last week how much Maine state government was reimbursed, however.

Four months have passed since the Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald first sought LePage’s travel expenses, and his office has yet to fully comply with the public records requests under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. However, documents from Maine State Police show that the governor’s security team, which is required to accompany him on his travels, routinely paid $300 to $500 a night – and sometimes as much as $750 per night – for rooms at exclusive hotels in a downtown area that offers dozens of other, less expensive lodgings.

During one trip, members of LePage’s travel group spent four nights at the Trump International Hotel at a time when the governor met with top administration officials and testified before Congress on a national monument designation that he lobbied President Trump to rescind.

The stay at Trump International – a magnet for foreign dignitaries and Washington insiders, and a symbol of the murky line between the president’s political and business interests – was a pricey one. All told, the tab for rooms, the $56-per-day valet parking and food – including $40 breakfasts from the hotel’s BLT Prime restaurant – totaled $2,250 just for LePage’s security team.

How much LePage himself and the staff who accompanied him spent at the hotel during that same period is unknown, because the governor’s office hasn’t provided receipts in response to the newspaper’s multiple requests. It’s also not clear how many staff went on the trips. LePage’s security team normally includes two or three people.


Compare hotel prices in downtown Washington

Gov. Paul LePage and his staff and security detail racked up $35,000 in expenditures on travel to Washington, D.C. this spring, including stays at the Trump International Hotel and other luxury lodgings, while there were a number of more affordable hotels within blocks. Maine taxpayers will foot most of the bill. Here’s a sampling of room charges at the Trump and Mayflower and comparable hotels in downtown Washington for a single room on July 27, 2017 and Feb. 27, 2018, obtained from travel booking websites.

SOURCE: expedia.com and kayak.com | STAFF GRAPHIC: Michael Fisher

RECORDS REQUESTS PARTIALLY HONORED

The lack of transparency, although nothing new for an administration that won’t provide reporters with the governor’s daily schedule, makes it impossible to know what other official or personal business LePage was carrying out in Washington on the taxpayers’ dime.

The documents represent only a partial fulfillment of requests submitted by the Telegram under FOAA in March. Despite repeated attempts by the newspaper to obtain travel receipts, the governor’s office provided only a generic summary of travel costs. The summary showed that he and his staff spent just shy of $15,000 on the four trips to the Washington area. That includes$7,913 on hotel lodging,$6,134 on airfare,$578 on rental vehicles and$351 on meals. When the security team’s expenses are included, the total travel costs are $35,000.

The governor’s spokesman said the D.C. trips were time and money well spent, “meeting with federal officials in an effort to benefit the Maine people.

“The Governor was in Washington to work on behalf of the Maine people by seeking assistance for infrastructure and transportation, the lobster industry, Maine’s agricultural industry, the state’s forest products industry, broadband in rural Maine, FERC regulations that are stifling the modernization of small dams in Maine and federal regulations that may interfere with local control of education,” LePage spokesman Peter Steele said when asked about the governor’s expenditures on his D.C. trips. “He was also asked to participate in a press conference on the Antiquities Act, especially because of concerns the Katahdin Woods and Waters national monument may have been expanded ‘without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.’ ”

Steele said the state was reimbursed for some of the $35,000-plus in expenditures during the three-month period but said staff did not have time to provide an accounting of those reimbursements last week.

“RGA (Republican Governors Association) and other organizations that invite the Governor to speak or participate usually, if not always, reimburse the Governor’s Office for airfare and hotel expenses,” Steele said.

Internal Revenue Service filings by the RGA show that the group wrote two reimbursement checks to the state for the reporting period between Jan. 1 and June 30. On March 27, the RGA paid $2,172 to Maine’s treasury office for “travel reimbursement” followed by a $4,172 “travel reimbursement” May 31. The IRS filing does not specify what travel was being reimbursed, however.

The March reimbursement could cover expenses for LePage’s attendance at the RGA’s winter meeting in Washington in late February. LePage was in Washington during that time, although that portion of his schedule is filled with “private appointments” and does not list any participation in the RGA meeting – an activity that should be disclosed under Maine’s FOAA laws.

The RGA also held a corporate policy conference at another Trump-owned resort in Florida in late May that could account for the $4,172 reimbursement. The Tampa Bay Times reported that LePage was among the governors who attended the RGA meeting at the Trump National Doral Miami golf course. That expenditure was outside of the time period reviewed by the Telegram, however, and was not included in the $35,000 estimate.

TELEGRAM CONTESTS REDACTED DETAILS

Because LePage’s office has yet to respond to public documents requested more than four months ago, the newspaper was forced to glean information on hotel costs and other expenses from reimbursements paid to officers whose job it is to protect him at all times.

Maine State Police were more forthcoming in response to the newspaper’s requests for travel expenses incurred by the Executive Protection Unit, whose members are “assigned to protect the Governor, the Governor’s family, and anyone else as designated by the Governor or the Department.”

For instance, police provided itemized receipts showing that the governor’s security detail spent nearly $9,900 on hotels plus more than $1,500 on meals while traveling to Washington. Officers charged with protecting LePage were also reimbursed roughly $6,100 for plane tickets to and from the capital – flying in “coach” or “economy” seats primarily on Jet Blue or American Airlines – plus another $3,000 to rent SUVs to transport the governor and for parking.

“State police do provide an executive protection unit that is with the governor 24/7,” said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. “The specifics of what they do is not something that we talk about publicly.”

Some of the receipts were heavily redacted to conceal the names of hotels and some restaurants in order to protect the governor’s security, according to the Department of Public Safety.

“The names of hotels where the Governor and Executive Protection Unit (‘EPU’) detail members stayed was redacted from the records provided to you because there is a reasonable possibility that the Governor and/or EPU detail members will stay at those locations again during future trips to Washington, D.C.,” wrote Christopher Parr, staff attorney for the state police, in a June 23 email to the newspaper. “Thus, there is a legitimate security reason/justification to withhold that information. Likewise with respect to the identity of restaurants/dining places that are associated with hotels where the Governor and EPU detail members stayed.”

The Telegram is contesting the redactions of months-old hotel stays through its attorney, Sigmund Schutz, of the law firm Preti Flaherty.

Blacked-out sections of an expense report from the Maine State Police hide the name of the hotel where state employees incurred $2,250 in room charges during Gov. Paul LePage’s visit to Washington, D.C. Maine State Police

“Of course, in general the governor’s location is not secret, either during the work day or that he lives at the Blaine House. His former, temporary hotel accommodations are not secret either,” Schutz wrote to Parr. “The places where the security detail ate and the locations where they stayed overnight several months ago are not a ‘security plan or procedure’ and do not … pose a reasonable likelihood of endangering anyone’s safety.”

The Telegram was able to identify most of the hotels based on other information in the documents provided to the paper. In addition to Trump International, LePage and his entourage also stayed at other higher-end hotels such as The Mayflower Hotel and Washington Plaza, but also a Holiday Inn. The redactions concealed the names of security team members, the number who traveled with LePage and, in some cases, whether meal or hotel receipts covered more than one person.

However, some restaurant receipts were not redacted, and they show that meal expenses varied widely. Receipts showed that security officers spent as little as $9.22 for lunch at Chick-fil-A, or $5.94 for a breakfast of coffee and a scone at Starbucks, but also $186.20 for dinner – likely for several members – at BLT Steak, a high-end steakhouse located just blocks from the White House.

All told, the security detail racked up $20,481.28 in reimbursable expenses while providing protection to LePage during the four trips to Washington. The state also paid 205.5 hours of overtime to officers providing security to LePage and his staff in Washington. Although hotel names were redacted, the room prices showed that LePage’s security detail – and, therefore, the governor – were booking four- and five-star accommodations in one of the nation’s most expensive cities.

On Feb. 28, for instance, at least one member of a security detail stayed in a room at the Mayflower Hotel that cost taxpayers $743.11 after taxes while another officer was reimbursed $570.77 for a second room. The two officers were reimbursed $537.01 and $340.63, respectively, for rooms the following night at the same hotel. The Mayflower was the site of the Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference on Development and Deployment that LePage attended.

It was unclear whether the conference ultimately picked up the tab for the governor’s participation in the event.

John Townsend, a spokesman for the travel agency and membership organization AAA Mid-Atlantic, said hotel prices in downtown D.C. vary dramatically depending upon the time of year, the type of room and what events are happening at that time. A AAA survey of rates for AAA members at higher-quality downtown hotels last week found prices for a single room ranging from around $199 to nearly $500 a night.

“You’re going to be paying, typically, around the low-$200s to get into a hotel room, and I would say probably between $200 to $350 a night,” Townsend said. “It is one of the most expensive places in the country to stay. That was the case 10 years ago, and that is the case now.”

Gov. Paul LePage and members of his staff, including security detail, stayed at numerous high-end hotels in Washington during a three-month period last spring, including The Mayflower Hotel. The administration has furnished only a general summary of travel costs but has rebuffed Maine Freedom of Access Act requests for travel receipts. Themayflowerhotel.com

NOT FORTHCOMING WITH ITINERARY

What, exactly, LePage was doing during some portions of his trips remains a mystery.

A copy of his calendar for Friday, Feb. 24, for instance, shows seven “private appointments” in addition to an Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition event, lunch with Vice President Mike Pence and a speech to a conservative conference. There are 17 more private appointments on Feb. 25 and 26 in addition to his participation in a Northeastern Governors Winter Meeting and a group dinner with Trump and the first lady. On Monday, Feb. 27, LePage’s schedule lists seven private appointments before he heads to Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

LePage was apparently back in D.C. two days later for the biofuels conference. His schedule for Wednesday, March 1, and Thursday, March 2 – the day he spoke to the conference – lists nine more private appointments.

There was widespread speculation at the time that LePage was angling for a job in the Trump administration or was testing the waters for a potential run against U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, in 2018.

LePage’s office refused to provide reporters with details of his schedule at that time, apart from his participation in a biofuels conference. His office released the calendar two months after the Telegram filed a formal public records request.

In late February, LePage spokesman Steele suggested that Maine’s newspapers – a frequent target of the governor’s criticism – would be the last to know if LePage was offered a post within the Trump administration.

“The president is pretty impressed with all the accomplishments the governor has made over the last six years that the Maine media have ignored,” Steele said at the time.

All told, LePage’s calendar contains more than 40 “private appointments” and just eight specified events between Feb. 23 and March 2 – a period when LePage’s security detail was in Washington.

LePage’s office has refused the Telegram’s requests for more information on those “private appointments.”

The eight events or meetings publicly disclosed on LePage’s schedule included: a group dinner at the White House with President Trump and other governors Feb. 26; participation in a Feb. 24 welfare reform panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC); and attendance of the Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference on Development and Deployment at the Mayflower Hotel on March 2.

The calendar shows that LePage traveled from Presque Isle to Washington and back to Maine in a 24-hour period so he could appear at a White House news conference where Trump announced plans to review dozens of national monuments, including Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

The monument landed on the review list largely because of LePage’s vocal opposition to the project and his lobbying of the Trump administration to reverse or change the designation.

Only days later, LePage returned again to Washington, where he apparently checked into the Trump hotel along with the state police officers assigned to protect him.

The Trump Organization, now run by the president’s two sons, owns and manages the newly opened hotel in the Old Post Office Building under a federal lease arranged long before last November’s election. While the U.S. General Services Administration has said the hotel does not present a conflict of interest for the president, Trump’s many critics view the hotel as a symbol of the tangled web of business and government interests surrounding the billionaire’s presidency. Reports that diplomats and some businesses are staying at the hotel in hopes of currying favor with the Trump family have only added fuel to those perceptions and suspicions.

LePage’s schedule shows that he met with two members of Congress during that trip – Republican Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio – to discuss health care and Medicaid reform. At the time, House Republican leaders were tweaking their controversial Affordable Care Act replacement bill in hopes of securing the additional votes needed for passage. And Maine’s governor was right in the mix, pushing for more state control over Medicaid – a program he refused to expand under the Affordable Care Act – and touting the high-risk insurance pools that were in place in Maine just before Obamacare took effect. LePage has also become a sought-after conservative voice on welfare reform given his administration’s controversial policies trimming Maine’s welfare rolls.

During that trip, LePage also testified before a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee on President Obama’s designation of 87,500 acres of Maine’s North Woods as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

‘MEDIA-FUELED HYSTERICS’

Steele, the governor’s spokesman, bristled when asked about the decision to stay in a hotel owned by the president’s family at a time when he was involved in policy discussions with the White House and Congress.

“The Governor doesn’t decide which hotel to use based on media-fueled hysterics over ‘potential optics’ or ‘controversy,’ ” Steele wrote. “The hotel offered some of the best rates and closest locations to the office building where the hearing was to take place.”

But AAA’s Townsend said Trump International is clearly one of the costlier establishments in downtown D.C.

“No other hotel in downtown Washington has a starting price as high as Trump International,” Townsend said.