Official White House state dinners are over-the-top lavish and costing
taxpayers too much in tough economic times, Rep. Darrell Issa said on
Friday, pointing to a 2010 dinner with the leader of Mexico that cost
$1 million and featured singer Beyonce.
Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has led the charge in pressing the General Services Administration (GSA) to reveal details about its lavish Las Vegas conference in 2010 that cost more than $800,000.
Now he is eyeing the White House for “excessively lavish” spending for
official White House state dinners.
He is requesting that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton turn over itemized costs for the last six official state dinners, the Examiner reported.
A 2010 Obama state dinner with 200 elite guests for Mexican President
Felipe Calderon cost taxpayers nearly $1 million, or $4,700 per attendee, the Examiner reported, and three other Obama state dinners cost half a million or more.
The dinner honoring Calderon and first lady Margarita Zavala drew Hollywood celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria and George Lopez, Olympian Shani Davis and Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Tribune reported, “They mingled with state and federal lawmakers,
diplomats, donors, Obama relatives and friends, many from Chicago,
plus West Coast guests including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio
In a Nov. 1 letter to Clinton, Issa wrote, “During these tough economic times, Americans are reining in their spending wherever possible. The executive branch should be mindful of this. Reports of excessively lavish events, however, indicate the opposite."
For the Calderon event, the White House constructed a special event stage on the South Lawn for Beyonce, brought in celebrity chef Rick Bayless from Chicago and retained celebrity event planner Bryan Rafanelli.
Issa fumed in the letter that spending so much on the events "creates the appearance that the White House and State Department are not planning and executing state dinners responsibly.”
Issa zeroed in on the role of the event planner, Boston-based Rafanelli Events Management and said there was "an improper relationship" between Rafanelli and Mark Walsh, the U.S. State Department's deputy chief of protocol.
Issa told Clinton that using outside event planners apparently veered from the practice of previous administrations, which did it in-house.
Issa's office released a video on Friday called "All the President's Parties."
The video shows Obama talking about the need to cut spending and then
shows him cracking a joke about the GSA’s excessive spending.
"We've got men in tuxes, women in gowns, fine wine, first class entertainment," Obama said. "I was just relieved to learn this was not a GSA conference."
The GSA scandal originated when the agency organized an $823,000 Las Vegas conference complete with a mind-reader, clowns, and a $75,000 bicycle-building exercise. Its employees also were sent on cooking classes costing up to $3,350-a-time in a bid to build “team spirit.”
The agency helps keep government running by providing supplies,
accommodations, and communications, and is under a top-down review
after the Vegas conference was revealed earlier this year.
Several officials have either been fired or have resigned as the spending scandal has unraveled.
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