In this file photo from 2008, New Jersey Rep. Rob Andrews is seen announcing his congressional run.
A New Jersey congressman has spent at least $97,000 in campaign money on at least 18 trips over the past five years to California, where his daughter has been pursuing a singing and acting career, The Associated Press found.
Campaign finance reports show U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews pulled in about $260,000 in donations from California residents and political action committees during the period, apparently holding major fundraising events during about a half-dozen of the trips. It's impossible to tell from the records whether he met with donors on other visits. Federal campaign finance regulations allow campaign funds to be used for certain non-fundraising travel.
But campaign experts say that raising less than $3 per $1 spent on fundraising is a lower rate than normal for most candidates, and it raises questions about why Andrews is making so many trips to California.
Andrews is not accused of any wrongdoing, and his campaign says that his expenditures in California were legitimate, in part because connections there have helped him raise money in other states.
A Washington watchdog group has urged federal election regulators to examine whether Andrews has been using campaign money for personal expenses in his California travels. It highlighted a November 2011 trip on which he spent nearly $12,000 in campaign funds, met with donors and raised at least $5,000 while he stayed at Beverly Hills Plaza hotel, hired limousine services for $1,400 and was photographed attending his daughter's recording session. The records do not say whether the campaign paid for her expenses, though Andrews says it never did so improperly.
It turns out the trip wasn't a one-time event but rather part of a regular pattern.
In the first review of Andrews' longer-term campaign spending practices, the AP examined his campaign finance reports going back 10 years and found that the Democratic congressman began regular campaign-funded trips to California starting in 2007. By that time his daughter, Josie, now 17, was spending time in California for auditions, according to her biography on the Internet Movie Database.
At least four of Andrews' trips coincided with her recording sessions, based on her tweets and web posts from her record label.
In an emailed statement, Andrews spokesman Fran Tagmire said the congressman has properly disclosed all his campaign expenditures and used personal money for any personal expenses. Tagmire declined to be interviewed or arrange an interview with Andrews but did send a lengthy email addressing some of the questions the AP asked about his California travels.
"His constituents ask him every day about jobs, education, health care and other issues that affect their lives -- not the questions you are raising," Tagmire said.
The Andrews campaign says it was doing what political experts say Democratic candidates do: go to the Los Angeles area to raise money from deep-pocketed liberals. The campaign also says he has spent time there meeting with experts on topics from education to foreign policy, though the campaign has declined to identify those experts. Tagmire also said that California contributors have used their connections to help the campaign raise money in other states.
"The political benefits of these expenses have far outweighed the costs," he said, adding: "Your numbers are wrong."
Tagmire declined to answer follow-up questions about what details from the AP analysis he believes are incorrect.
Federal campaign rules give candidates latitude in how they can spend donors' dollars, though they are barred from using the contributions on vacations and other purely personal expenses.
Get the latest from NBC 4 New York anytime, anywhere. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Sign up for email newsletters here. Get breaking news delivered right to your phone -- just text NYBREAKING to 639710. For more info, text HELP. To end, text STOP. Message and data rates may apply.