Exclusive — Special Interests Funded $110K-Plus of Globetrotting Lavish Travel for Democrat Ron Kind
Democrat Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) has taken more than $110,000 worth of special interest-funded lavish trips, filings with the U.S. House Ethics Committee reveal.
Documents show that between March 2001 and August 2019, Kind took at least 14 trips valued at $110,665—all funded by special interest groups. He has taken trips everywhere from Tel Aviv to Geneva to Rome to Munich to Fort Lauderdale to New Orleans to Houston to Seattle and more, funded by various different special interest groups and corporations.
The documents, while filed with the House Ethics Committee as required by congressional ethics regulations, have not been publicly reported until now. Kind’s office declined to make the congressman available for an interview to explain his high-class globetrotting on special interest groups’ dimes, and would not provide a comment in response to these revelations. It’s worth noting that instead of doing her job and answering press inquiries about her boss’s extravagant travel, Kind’s congressional office communications director, Sarah Abel, has been firing off nasty tweets and retweets about Republicans in the past two days since Breitbart News began inquiring about this with her.
Perhaps most importantly, Kind represents Wisconsin’s third congressional district—a battleground seat that Democrats are particularly worried they may lose should Kind decide against seeking reelection or should he lose if he faces the voters again. Former President Donald Trump won this district twice, both in 2016 and 2020, but Republicans did not flip it. Retired Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden, who was the GOP nominee for the seat in 2020 and nearly defeated Kind last year, is running again against the endangered Democrat. Democrats are particularly afraid that Kind may decide to either retire after his decades in Congress, forgoing reelection and thereby all but surrendering the key seat to Republicans, or run for another office such as the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin, thereby also surrendering the House seat. The pressure is building on Kind to make a move, and soon, all while scandals torment the vulnerable House Democrat.
Last week, Fox News reported that Kind owns a commercial real estate development in which a tenant of his is a seedy massage parlor that advertises on websites known to law enforcement as a home of those promoting illicit sex acts and prostitution. While this particular establishment—Asian Sunny Massage—has not been accused specifically of illegal activity, local news reports indicate that police have been called to the establishment no less than seven times, including multiple occasions in the middle of the night, in less than three years of operation. Rather than dig into the reports and concerns that his tenant—from whom his financial disclosure forms indicate he received between $15,001 and $50,000 in annual rental income—may be engaged in, Kind instead turned around and baselessly and without evidence accused Van Orden of “racism” for raising concerns about potential human trafficking that might be occurring at this location. The scandal is so bad that some Republicans have even started calling Kind “RubMaps Ron,” a derisive nickname based off one of the illicit websites that the massage parlor advertised on.
These travel documents add a new element to the blossoming image of a Democrat congressman out of touch with his constituents and using his position for his own personal gain. Kind, first elected in 1996, began taking these special interest funded vacations a few years into his more than 20-year tenure in Congress, back in 2001.
While members of Congress do generally take some trips and travel opportunities funded by some special interests to events or gatherings or places that affect issues they work on, one interesting detail here is the extravagance that Kind indulged in as compared with other members of the Wisconsin congressional delegation. No sitting member of the Wisconsin delegation—in the House or Senate—comes even close to Kind, according to Legistorm calculations based off documents the members filed with the House Ethics Committee. He has far and away, in his more than two decades in Congress, taken more special interest funds for travel than anyone else. His more than $110,000 in special interest funded travel is more than 10 grand more than the next closest member of the Wisconsin delegation, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)—who has taken 27 trips worth $99,502. Baldwin took nearly double the amount of trips, by the way, to spend less than Kind did on just 14 trips. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), with over 10 trips, is next with $58,025 in special interest travel, and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) comes in after that with $53,694 over 22 trips.
The highest number for a current Republican lawmaker is $36,864 over four trips for Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI), and after that Reps. Bryan Steil (R-WI) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI) come in at $13,651 and $10,325 respectively with two and five trips respectively. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has taken five trips worth $8,720. Even former House Speaker Paul Ryan took less than Kind, with just $57,526 in special interest-funded travel over 17 trips.
In other words, Kind has spent decades in Washington taking tens of thousands of dollars worth of fancy trips to exotic locations funded by special interest groups and corporations—many of which, by the way, he brought his wife along for. Some he even brought their two sons along for.
In March 2001, the Aspen Institute funded a March 9 to March 11 trip that Kind revealed in a filing on April 3, 2001, for him and his family to a “bipartisan retreat” in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Kind’s wife and their two sons joined them on the trip, for a total cost, according to the ethics filing, of $1,454.
That jaunt to West Virginia for a special interest-funded trip a few hours from Capitol Hill was the beginning of what would become the most travel funded by special interests of anyone in the Wisconsin delegation currently serving in the House or Senate. While members of Congress do regularly take occasional trips overseas or domestically funded by interest groups, Kind’s level of travel—often lavish and to exotic destinations—accelerated after that first trip.
A couple years later, around the same timeframe in 2003, he took his whole family back to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, late February into early March for another “congressional retreat” for a longer trip that lasted from Feb. 28 to March 2 in 2003—an extra day for the family there, and of course at a higher cost. That second White Sulphur Springs trip cost $1,767—another few hundred bucks over the first one for the extra day in the town that is home to the luxury resort the Greenbrier. This trip was funded by a different special interest group, too: the “Public Governance Institute” paid the bills this time, according to the documents Kind filed with the House Ethics Committee.
Later that year, in December 2003, Kind took his wife Tawni to Seattle, Washington, on a two-day bender from Dec. 11 to Dec. 13, 2003, funded this time by the corporations Microsoft and Starbucks. Both companies are headquartered in Seattle. This trip cost $5,513, according to Ethics filings Kind signed and submitted on Jan. 8, 2004. Transportation costs were fairly exorbitant, totaling $4,168 for Kind and his wife combined. The two mega corporations, Starbucks and Microsoft, spent another $900 on meals for the Kinds, per the congressman’s Ethics Committee filing, over the course of the two-day trip.
A few months later, in the spring of 2004, Kind and his wife were off again on another special interest-funded trip to Amelia Island, Florida—an exclusive playground for the wealthy and elite just north of Jacksonville—for a trip with an undisclosed purpose for three days from March 25 to March 28, 2004. That trip, paid for by the now-defunct dark money-backed “Democratic Leadership Council,” cost $4,093.36 in total, according to the filings Kind submitted to the House Ethics Committee on April 22, 2004.
The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a corporate-funded dark money group that ceased operations in 2011, was formed 1985 in an effort to push the Democrat Party away from its socialist and leftward lurch that began in the mid-20th century. A Newsweek report in 2000 noted that the group, founded by among others former Vice President Al Gore, did not publicly disclose its dark money donors. But a 2001 report from the American Prospect—a leftist magazine—revealed several of them, many of them mega corporations.
The American Prospect report revealed:
For $5,000, 180 companies, lobbying firms, and individuals found themselves on the DLC’s board of advisers, including British Petroleum, Boeing, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Coca-Cola, Dell, Eli Lilly, Federal Express, Glaxo Wellcome, Intel, Motorola, U.S. Tobacco, Union Carbide, and Xerox, along with trade associations ranging from the American Association of Health Plans to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. For $10,000, another 85 corporations signed on as the DLC’s policy roundtable, including AOL, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Citigroup, Dow, GE, IBM, Oracle, UBS PacifiCare, PaineWebber, Pfizer, Pharmacia and Upjohn, and TRW.
The DLC dissolved in 2011, news first reported at the time by Politico, after the group’s then-president, Bruce Reed, left to serve as then-Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff. Reed now serves Biden, as the president of the United States, as deputy chief of staff in the White House.
The DLC funded another trip for Kind a year later, in the spring of 2005, to New Orleans, Louisiana, from April 29 to May 1, 2005. That trip cost, filings Kind sent to the Ethics Committee reveal, $2,491.07 for just Kind—no wife or kids on this trip. The document shows that it was for the “DLC Golf Tournament” and the “DLC Spring Retreat,” at which there was a gathering of “public officials, scholars, and private sector reps for discussion” and “members worked on agenda/strategy.” Kind gave a “presentation on New Dems.”
While Kind was in New Orleans, Dominion Exploration and Production, Inc., paid for a little day-trip offshore—total cost $969.67—per a separate filing Kind sent to the House Ethics Committee on April 29 so he could see “Devil’s Tower,” “an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.”
But between his two DLC trips in spring 2004 and spring 2005, Kind took two other trips funded by special interest groups—one to Alabama and his first known special interest-funded trip to Europe, when he went to Munich, Germany, and Brussels, Belgium.
From Nov. 30 to Dec. 5 in 2004, the Ethics Committee filings Kind submitted reveal he and his wife visited Munich in Germany and Brussels in Belgium. The excursion, the documents show, was funded by a group called the Transatlantic Policy Network and the itinerary included meetings with members of the European Parliament. The Transatlantic Policy Network website indicates the organization has a number of corporate backers. Companies listed on its website as “business participants” by the Transatlantic Policy Network include Allianz, Amway, Apple, AT&T, BASF, Coca-Cola, Daimler, Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly, Facebook, Google, IBM, JP Morgan, Microsoft, Oracle, Philip Morris International, Procter & Gamble, Siemens, Syngenta, UPS, and Walt Disney.
In early 2005, from March 4 to March 6, Kind took another trip this time to Alabama—to Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma—for a “Civil Rights Pilgrimage” funded by “The Faith and Politics Institute.” The trip cost $925.
After his Louisiana trip, Kind waited a year plus before his next big adventure—a fully-funded trip with his wife Tawni to Rome and Geneva. That trip was paid for by a consortium of organizations per Ethics Committee filings Kind submitted, including “The Congressional Economic Leadership Institute,” “the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation,” American Airlines, Merck, Unilever, Allianz, AIG, and Embraer.
The Rome and Geneva trip cost $12,145.42 for Kind and his wife to travel there—again paid for by those various corporations and special interest groups—and the purpose of the trip, according to the documents Kind submitted to the House Ethics Committee, was so he could “meet with officials of the World Trade Organization and U.S. and other country ambassadors to the WTO in order to assess the current status and prospects for the Doha Round of trade negotiations” as well as “to examine issues related to trade and the global economy.” This trip was bipartisan, as two Republicans joined Kind and three other Democrats on the six-member trip.
It was nearly five years before Kind took another special interest-funded trip. In August 2011, he joined a partisan trip with dozens of other Democrats including House Democrat Leader Steny Hoyer for a $11,688.40 trip to Israel. The trip, funded by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), went from Aug. 7 to Aug. 15, 2011. In the document he submitted to the House Ethics Committee for approval for the special interest-funded trip, Kind wrote regarding its purpose: “As a member of Congress, I am expected to know the important issues involved in the Israel-U.S. relationship. This trip will allow further insight into the complexities of the relationship.” AEIF is a charitable group affiliated with AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
In 2012, Kind and his wife Tawni went on another trip—this time to Fort Lauderdale, Florida—funded by the “Alliance for Health Reform” through, according to Kind’s filings with the House Ethics Committee, a “grant from The Commonwealth Fund.” This trip cost $2,438.35 for the three-day stint in the sun in south Florida from Jan. 19 to Jan. 22 in 2012. According to the documents filed with the Ethics Committee, this trip was bipartisan and included dozens and dozens of members of both parties and staff members from Capitol Hill.
On the Fort Lauderdale trip, Kind and his wife stayed at the lavish Ritz Carlton beachside resort on Fort Lauderdale Beach. The Ritz Carlton’s website hypes the luxurious accommodations available:
The relaxed, seaside charm of Fort Lauderdale is captured in the amenities and personalized attention at this beachfront resort. Guests are encouraged to slow down, take in the view and savor every moment of their experience, whether overlooking the ocean from a private poolside cabana, indulging in Burlock Coast’s weekend brunch or enjoying a full-body detox with the spa’s signature Cleansing Ceremony.
The hotel accommodations alone cost $339 per night. What’s more, Kind and his wife extended their trip beyond what the special interest group was paying for their stay on the sand in the sun by a day per a letter from the House Ethics Committee included in Kind’s filings approving the trip. “We note that this trip includes one day at your personal expense,” then-House Ethics Committee chairman Jo Bonner and then-House Ethics Committee ranking member Linda Sanchez wrote to Kind in a signed letter approving the excursion.
Two years later, the very same “Alliance for Health Policy” paid for another three-day getaway for Kind and his wife, this time to Houston, Texas, from Feb. 28, 2014, to March 2, 2014, per filings Kind submitted to the Ethics Committee. The documents show that this was another bipartisan trip with dozens of Republican and Democrat lawmakers who joined Kind and his wife on the jaunt, which cost for Kind and his wife $4,097.35 in total. While there, they stayed at the Houstonian Hotel, Club, & Spa, which notes on its website “is located on an 27-acre wooded oasis in the heart of Houston” and “is known for comfort, elegance and exceptional service” while offering travelers “a rare opportunity to escape in the city.”
“Houstonian Hotel guests receive complimentary access to the exclusive Houstonian Club, one of the nation’s top, private health clubs,” the website adds. “Trellis Spa welcomes guests with a Mediterranean style respite, complete with treatment rooms, a float pool and salons.”
After that, Kind over the next several years—in 2015 and 2019—took two more trips to Israel totaling more than $40,000 between them. Both trips were funded again by AEIF, and this time on both occasions—unlike his first AEIF Israel trip back in 2011—his wife Tawni joined him for the journey. The 2015 trip, from Aug. 3 to Aug. 11, 2015, cost $24,231.70 and only included Democrats. The 2019 trip, from Aug. 4 to Aug. 12, 2019, cost $21,953.78, and again only included Democrats.
Both trips did include tours of Israel, and meetings with high-level Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the lawmakers and significant others, including Ron and Tawni Kind, stayed primarily on both trips, according to the documents Kind filed with the House Ethics Committee, at the King David Hotel, a five-star hotel in Jerusalem that is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World organization. That group’s description of the King David says the five-star hotel “has one of the most stunning views of the Old City and is in the exclusive Yemin Moshe neighborhood.”