As secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price was a pioneer: he distinguished himself as the first Trump Cabinet member to be forced out by scandal, and he managed to serve the shortest tenure in his department’s history (232 days).
Price and his Magellan-like exploits around the globe were the stuff of Swamp legend—his penchant for chartered jets and military aircraft cost taxpayers some $1.2 million. The nation’s top health czar did not let a terrifying opioid epidemic get him down. He kept busy blogging about his adventures in Switzerland and Liberia with links to uploaded pictures of himself on a Flickr account, like a bratty study-abroad student circa 2009. Price walked so that Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, Steven Mnuchin—and basically everybody else—could run.
Then came September of 2017. Politico hit Price with a series of scoops about his travel expenses that were so damning even his boss could not let it slide. At the height of the fracas, President Trump admitted to reporters: “I’m not happy about it. I’m going to look at it.” And look he did—Price was gone two days later.
In spite of his sacking—er, “resignation”—Price has not lost his pioneering spirit. He quickly jumped onto the advisory board of an Atlanta-based health-care company and, recently, began getting creative for more free airfare. And we’re not talking about American Express points.
Price walked so that Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, Steven Mnuchin—and basically everybody else—could run.
Price, who served in the House of Representatives for Georgia’s Sixth District before his Cabinet appointment, is currently seeking a green light from the Federal Election Commission to reach into his old congressional campaign committee’s coffers to get at $1.7 million left over in funds. He wants to resurrect what’s known as “zombie campaign” money—prohibited for personal use—ostensibly to fund what he’s calling a “social welfare” nonprofit, of which he will be “President and CEO.”
Price, according to a letter from his attorneys sent to the F.E.C. in May, intends to use those funds in part “for out-of-pocket expenditures,” including travel. Or, as one official at the F.E.C. described it, he wants their blessing to set up a “travel slush fund.” Price would not return requests for comment through his lawyer.
Naturally, the commission’s Republican members don’t see Price as a flight risk. “This isn’t just a guise also for him to travel the world,” said Republican and vice-chair Matthew S. Petersen during an unusually testy July 25 F.E.C. meeting. (This, about a guy who once spent $15,000 of taxpayer money to charter a round-trip jet from D.C. to Philadelphia.)
Ellen Weintraub, the commission’s chair, wasn’t convinced. “I am not going to vote for this,” she said during the meeting. Weintraub argued that by granting an affirmative advisory opinion for Price’s proposed vacation kitty, the F.E.C. could end up setting a new precedent, concluding, “I am not about that.”
Ethics rears its wonky head in the Trump era. It must have been a shock to the system for Price.
Shawn McCreesh is a reporter in Washington, D.C.