Senators Call for Probe of Brand USA

Federal funds may have been wasted on vacations, parties for Democratic donors

June 14, 2012

Several Republican Senators are launching a probe into Brand USA, a public-private corporation established by Congress to promote U.S. tourism accused by critics of being a slush-fund for Democratic boosters.

In a letter to Commerce Secretary John Bryson released Thursday, Senators Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Mike Lee (R., Utah), Rand Paul (R., Ky.), Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), and Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) said they were concerned about potential waste.

"Recent media reports raised serious concerns about the direction and management of the promotional campaign directed by the Corporation for Travel Promotion (Brand USA/Corporation), a public/private entity formed to promote U.S. tourism abroad," the letter reads. "We are concerned about reports of potentially significant waste and misuse of funds at the Corporation."

Brand USA recently drew fire from Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) for sending its board members to England for a business meeting. That business meeting only lasted two hours and was followed by a VIP launch party. Video of the party was later put on the organization’s Facebook page.

"The video, also available on the Brand USA website, shows it was a high-end affair held at the Maritime Museum covered in light art projections displaying the Brand USA logo," Thursday’s letter reads. "Brand USA also provided guests, over 500 VIPs, sushi, champagne and petit fours."

The Senators are requesting all documents and an accounting of all costs associated with the party. Brand USA maintains that no public funds were spent on the event.

The letter also notes Brand USA awarded a major contract to media consulting firm JWT without going through a competitive bidding process and that it has yet to release its first substantive annual report, originally due May 15.

The Senators are requesting communications, salaries of Brand USA employees, and details of the contract with JWT by no later than June 27.

"For a company spending tens of millions in federal funds it is vital that [this] information be made available to the public and Congress immediately," the letter states.

As previously reported by the Free Beacon, Brand USA’s board was appointed by an Obama campaign coordinator and is composed of business leaders with significant ties to Democrats.

Brand USA board chairman Stephen Cloobeck donated heavily to a Super PAC run by operatives tied to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Another Brand USA board member is a bundler for the Obama campaign.

"Every American, especially those who have been out of work for months, should be asking why their taxpayer dollars should subsidize conferences in London for board members of the Corporation for Travel Promotion," a spokesperson for Sen. Tom Coburn said in a statement to the Free Beacon in May. "This operation is about self-promotion, not travel promotion."