Virginia taxpayers will pick up a $2,435 food and drink tab for a luxury box at last month’s Washington Redskins playoff game, despite a majority of the suite’s unidentified guests attending with no official public purpose, according to state records.
To stock the FedEx Field suite, a state economic development agency made an order involving $1,045 for hot dogs, chicken and other food, $656 for Bud Light, Stella Artois and Flying Dog IPA and $198 for soft drinks and water.
Just four of the 15 attendees in the box for the Jan. 10 game represented businesses considering expansion in Virginia, according to an invoice that divided the food and drink tab between the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the office of Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones.
Though a VEDP staffer initially covered the food and drink expense on a personal credit card, Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office said state funds will eventually be used to pay the bill, at a cost of $162.35 per person.
The McAuliffe administration has refused to identify some state officials who were in the suite provided by the Redskins after questions were raised about the free ticket accepted by Jones, who invited business leaders to attend the game as a way of promoting Virginia’s economy.
McAuliffe’s office has said that because other officials in the box paid for their tickets, their attendance was private and does not need to be disclosed.
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said Wednesday that the food and drinks were pre-ordered while officials were expecting a larger crowd of business prospects. Coy said it was “widely understood” that the spread was intended for economic development purposes, but he did not dispute the possibility that public officials in the suite as private citizens ate and drank at public expense.
“To my knowledge, there was no audit of the guacamole or the hot dogs,” Coy said.
In a response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, VEDP released a heavily redacted version of the guest list showing the names of just two people: Jones and one of his aides.
The Associated Press first reported Jones’ attendance at the game, which raised questions about whether the complimentary ticket he received from the team represented the type of gift McAuliffe said he had banned after the corruption scandal that brought down former Gov. Bob McDonnell. McAuliffe’s office has said the state ethics council cleared Jones to attend the game, and ethics rules contain exceptions for “widely attended” events.
Email traffic in Jones’ office in the days leading up to the game suggests officials were treating the event as an economic development opportunity. From Friday to Sunday, officials passed around lists of potential invitees from the business world.
One employee suggested inviting “DC-based site selection consultants who bring us active projects.” The names of all the potential guests were redacted, including a person one state official said was “thrilled to be included, but now has to be at the Pentagon and is not able to attend.”
The state’s Freedom of Information Act allows government agencies to keep the identities of business prospects secret to protect sensitive negotiations.
“VEDP does not comment on economic development projects, real or imagined,” Sandi McNinch, a lawyer for VEDP, said in a letter accompanying the records given to The Times-Dispatch.
The disclosure rules for the other guests are less clear.