U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who prides himself on being a fiscal conservative, made an interesting claim about his frugality in one recent article.
The Coweta County Republican said his office "runs on as little money as possible to properly serve my constituents, and for that reason I have returned money every year since taking office."
The Citizen newspaper reported the comments. PolitiFact Georgia wondered whether Westmoreland, who’s been in Congress since 2005, is correct about his penny-pinching ways.
Westmoreland was responding to questions about staff spending during that October partial government shutdown we’d all like to forget. Westmoreland’s spokeswoman, Leslie Shedd, said the congressman’s claim was correct and sent us an annual breakdown of how much money he has returned to the federal government.
Congressional spending has attracted more scrutiny since the shutdown. Two Georgia congressmen, Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, and Tom Price, R-Roswell, are spending $5,000 or more a month on office space, well more than their colleagues, according to a recent WXIA-TV investigation.
Each year, each member of Congress gets between $1 million and $1.9 million from the federal budget to pay their staff and for office space, travel and other expenses. The allocations are called Member’s Representational Allowance, or MRA. The House of Representatives decreased the MRA budget by 5 percent in 2011 and by slightly more than 6 percent in 2012. Westmoreland has received an annual average of nearly $1.4 million.
The overwhelming majority of Westmoreland’s spending was on his staff.
Here’s Westmoreland’s breakdown of the money he said he’s returned:
The total, Shedd noted, is $756,905.
"As a note, as of right now, we plan to return money once again in 2013 -- even though we are dealing with sequester and budget cuts," the spokeswoman said.
The House of Representatives keeps track of MRA spending in quarterly reports on its website dating to 2009. Prior spending is recorded in small, thick books kept in some local libraries.
PolitiFact Georgia examined Westmoreland’s spending online and looked at some of those books at Emory University’s Woodruff Library. In each year, we found Westmoreland’s expenses were less than his MRA budget. Our calculation showed Westmoreland spent less than his office told us. Experts told us that some office spending in December may not have been included by the end of the year, thus, the difference. The quarterly reports do not include a detailed breakdown of when each expenditure was made.
So what happens with the unspent money?
"Any unexpended MRA appropriated balance remaining at the end of the fiscal year is available for two additional fiscal years before being returned to the U.S. Treasury as part of returned FY appropriations," according to the House website.
We took a look at the other members of Congress from Georgia and each one of them had spent less money in 2012 than was budgeted. Westmoreland spent less than most of his Georgia colleagues in 2012.
To sum up, Westmoreland said he has returned money from his allotted budget each year he’s been in office. The numbers he sent -- and that we independently reviewed -- show he makes a good point.
Our rating: True.