Rep. Sharice Davids (D., Kan.) has cited "the ongoing public health emergency" to justify skipping out on in-person votes—while attending fundraisers and staying in $1,000-a-night hotels across the country.
Davids’s campaign has spent more than $20,000 on out-of-state hotel stays this cycle, often at swanky hotels. Davids last August attended a Napa Valley fundraiser with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) a day before missing an in-person vote on legislation related to a report on federal programs for Native American children. She is one of only four Native American members of Congress. The congresswoman claimed she was "unable to physically attend" House proceedings "due to the ongoing public health emergency" brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
There are no rules limiting members of Congress from using proxy voting. But Democrats have been accused of abusing the loophole, which Pelosi instituted early in the pandemic. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) said the "overwhelming majority" of members who vote by proxy are "lying" when they cite the coronavirus pandemic for missing votes.
Davids has voted by proxy on at least nine occasions, which often coincided with out-of-state appearances. In October, she voted in absentia for a bill related to domestic violence the same day she attended an event with Jill Biden in Kansas City. Two months later, she cast proxy votes on bills regarding China’s genocide against Muslims and synthetic opioids while traveling on Air Force One to an event with President Joe Biden.
Davids’s campaign paid $3,632 to the Kimpton Rowan in Palm Springs on Nov. 16, which overlapped with fundraisers hosted by Pelosi and Equality PAC, an LGBT group that supports Davids. The hotel charges up to $650 per night. Davids, who was raised by a single mother who served in the Army, voted by proxy two days after the trip on a bill to provide maternal care to female veterans.
Davids stayed in March at the iconic Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, which promises an "experience of luxury and elegance" for rooms ranging from $1,073 to $6,664 per night. It is unclear whether Davids stayed at the Waldorf for a fundraiser or some other event. Her congressional office and campaign, which spent $4,447 for the trip, did not respond to requests for comment.
There are no legal restrictions on campaigns paying for candidates’ lodging, even at the country's swankiest resorts. But extravagant campaign spending has opened candidates up in the past to criticism for seeming out of touch with voters. One ethics group accused Rep. Eric Swalwell (D., Calif.) of using his campaign coffers as his "personal piggy bank" to pay for dinner at premier restaurants and lodging at fancy hotels. Republicans assailed Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R., N.C.) last year after his campaign paid for his stay at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando.
Davids had seemingly little reason to worry about coronavirus at the time of her trip to Napa, where Pelosi’s husband was recently arrested for drunk driving. Davids tested positive for coronavirus on Aug. 6, weeks before her California swing. The party drew scrutiny after video emerged of maskless attendees being served by masked waiters.
Davids’s visits to California appear to have paid off, even as she touts "grassroots energy" for her campaign and an "incredible wave of support from Kansas." She has raised $459,846 from donors in California, according to campaign finance records.